A task force charged with proposing “innovative and groundbreaking ways to reduce childhood poverty” today recommended that Gov. Sam Brownback promote education, employment, and healthy marriage.
“There is no single answer to end childhood poverty in Kansas,” said Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary, in a prepared statement that accompanied the late-afternoon release of a 27-page report by the Governor’s Task Force on Reducing Childhood Poverty.
“Based on the evidence presented during our meetings, we believe these recommendations are an important start,” said Gilmore, who chaired the 12-member task force.
“The governor entrusted us with a tremendous task,” said Sherdeill Breathett, a Wichita pastor and president of the Kansas African American Healthy Marriage Initiative. He co-chaired the task force.
“We hope lawmakers and others will take a serious look at our recommendations,” he said. “Kansas families deserve our best efforts to end childhood poverty.”
The report is a product of Brownback’s 2010 campaign promise to address childhood poverty, part of his “Roadmap for Kansas” reform plan.
A sampling of the task force recommendations:
- Expand job training and technical education programs;
- Find mentors for at-risk children;
- Improve fourth grade reading scores;
- Promote employment over dependence on government-funded programs;
- Launch a public relations campaign to stress the importance of marriage and fatherhood;
- Expand middle school and high school classes on healthy relationships;
- Reduce or eliminate marriage license fees for couples that complete an eight-hour course on healthy relationships.
Betsy Cauble, a social welfare professor at Kansas State University read the task force’s report.
“I’d say it’s a good summary of what we already know,” Cauble said. “But I can’t say that there’s much here that’s new or what you’d call innovative.”
Most Kansans, she said, are likely to support the report's premise that education is important, that families with employed parents fare better than those with unemployed parents, and that healthy marriages benefit children.
“But all of this assumes that if you do everything you’re supposed to do, you’ll be able to get a job, make enough money to live on, and take care of your family,” said Cauble, chair of K-State's Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. “But in today’s economy those jobs aren’t there — there are some, but there aren’t nearly enough."
“We can tell people to go get jobs,” she said. “But if that’s going to work, those jobs are going to have to be there. Right now, they’re not.”
Cauble said she was struck that the report did not include recommendations for measuring the reform initiative’s recommendations.
“I think that’s critical,” she said.
Shannon Cotsoradis, chief executive with the advocacy group Kansas Action Children, panned the recommendations.
“There’s nothing in here on early childhood development, which research has shown to be the most critical window for combating the effects of poverty — that’s the most glaring omission,” she said. “There’s also no mention of shoring up the social safety-net programs that are keeping thousands of families together.”
Kids Count, Kansas 2013
Earlier this year, her organization released data from Kansas drawing on an Annie E. Casey Foundation report, which found that roughly 19 percent of Kansas children — or 134,000 youngsters — live below the federal poverty level, which is $23,050 a year for a family of four.
“There’s nothing in these (task force) recommendations that’s going to produce near-term results,” Cotsoradis’ said. “That’s unfortunate because these kids are in poverty now.”
Members of the task force disagreed with her assessment. The final paragraph in the report’s executive summary reads:
“The task force acknowledges that the government’s ability to address poverty has historically been unsuccessful. Though government at the state and federal level continues to pour money into anti-poverty programs, poverty rates continue to grow, and out-of-wedlock childbirth has exploded. Government must be mindful of programs and policies that result in keeping individuals in poverty by disincentivizing full-time employment and marriage or incentivizing out-of-wedlock childbirths.”
Joining Gilmore and Breathett on the task force were:
- Kansas Department on Aging and Disability Services Secretary Shawn Sullivan;
- Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Robert Moser;
- Monsignor Vincent Krische, senior associate at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Lawrence;
- Carolyn Szafran, a social work instructor at Washburn University in Topeka;
- Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission;
- Mary Wilkinson, a member of the Kansas Family Policy Council board of directors;
- Joan Schultz, executive director at the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence;
- Joyce Crumpton, a retired nurse;
- Robert DeLeon, youth program director with the Salvation Army in Garden City; and
- Dan Lord, a marriage and family therapy professor at Friends University.
Earlier this week, DCF announced its decision not to renew a federal waiver that allows about 20,000 unemployed and childless Kansans to receive government food assistance.
Nearly 319,000 Kansans — 176,400 adults and 142,600 children — received Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program Assistance last month.
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