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Report: Economy Good for Kansas Kids; Health Coverage Needs Improvement

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- When it comes to children's economic wellbeing, Kansas is doing well compared with many other states, but could improve the number of children who have health insurance by expanding Medicaid coverage, according to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Clay Wirestone, director of communications at Kansas Action for Children, said the state is behind 24 others who are making sure kids have health coverage.

"The problem is, we know that if adults don't have health insurance, if adults don't have the option to sign up for health insurance, they don't sign up their kids," Wirestone explained.

Kansas is one of only 12 states that has opted out of Medicaid expansion. Overall, Kansas ranked 18th out of 50 states for child wellbeing. The Kids Count index captures what children need most to thrive, using four domains including: economic wellbeing, education, health and family, and community.

The U.S. Congress expanded the Child Tax Credit, which the Biden administration hopes will deliver financial support for families in need, and reduce long-standing disparities affecting millions of families of color.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Foundation, said it's expected to raise as many as half of the children now living below the poverty line to above the poverty line, but warns it might not last.

"We are excited and grateful that lawmakers passed the expansion," Boissiere stated. "And we're calling on them to make that expansion permanent. We'd like to ensure that we don't have the largest ever one-year reduction in the number of children who live in poverty, followed immediately by the largest ever one-year increase."

Wirestone noted Kansas is fortunate to have a good economic picture, with fewer children living in poverty than the previous year or living in households with high housing costs.

"One of the persistent areas where Kansas has been strong is that Kansas is actually 11th place in terms of economic wellbeing," Wirestone observed. "So there are fairly strong numbers in terms of employment."

In the area of education, Kansas showed a slight decline in the percentage of fourth-graders who are not proficient in reading, and a larger decline in eighth-graders who are not proficient in math.