Commentary Human Rights

Brownback’s Faux-Life Reality: Kansas Kids Denied a Place—and a Future—at the Table of Privilege

Kari Ann Rinker

I am concerned that despite the nation avoiding a Romney Presidency, his fiscal pursuits are alive and well and are being implemented in red states across the nation. The poorest citizens of those states will bear the burden of these policies. No one should go hungry, while others dine at the table of privilege.

Last week, I ate my Thanksgiving dinner in a place called Wichita, Kansas. I shopped at three different grocery stores, fussed over dinner preparation, gathered with family and ate three desserts with my three school-aged daughters.

I ate this meal with the realization that childhood poverty has increased by 50 percent since the year 2005 within my community. I ate this meal knowing that since 2010, 74 percent of the children living in the same school district as my three daughters qualified for free or reduced price school lunches. My Caucasian family unit sat around a large table, each one of us healthy and insured, while 25 percent of African Americans and 10 percent of their white counterparts living in my county do not have access to healthcare. So while I may have dined in a place called Wichita, I also recognize that I dined in a place called privilege.

Equity is a pervasive theme and ideal found within our family unit. My husband and I are cognizant of it within the dynamics of our home life, each doing our best to pull our fair share of the load. Our six-year-old twins are well aware of the concept, as Abby quite simply cannot fathom a world where Ava might have two chocolate chip cookies, while she only receives one. Fairness, equality and caring for each other… these are the family values found within our house. These are the family values we would like to see emulated within Wichita, within the state of Kansas, and throughout the nation.

This is why the current status of the poor has me concerned. The election of President Obama may bring some comfort and hope for the protection of social supports, programs and safety nets for the one in five children living in poverty across the nation, but with talks of sequestration… much is yet unknown. The Coalition on Human Needs sent a letter to every member of Congress regarding sequestration. Government Executive wrote the following about that letter…

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The letter calls for protecting low-income Americans and decries cuts to the government workforce, education and programs such as Head Start and food stamps. They also push for an expiration of Bush-era tax cuts on American households making more than $250,000 a year, and for some — but not across-the-board — cuts to defense spending.

“Putting the most vulnerable people at risk is the wrong response to our nation’s fiscal situation,” the letter states. “Automatic cuts to domestic programs that are scheduled to take effect in January 2013 under the sequestration provisions of the Budget Control Act will inflict devastating harm.”

I am concerned that despite the nation avoiding a Romney Presidency, his fiscal pursuits are alive and well and are being implemented in red states across the nation. The poorest citizens of those states will bear the burden of these policies.  For example, despite recent tea party electoral losses, Speaker of the House John Boehner is still calling for a repeal of Obamacare. While a repeal may not be practical in nature, Speaker Boehner is sending out the conservative bat signal to the bevy of red state governors… hold the line on Medicaid expansion.

In Kansas, Governor Brownback has not yet made a formal decision regarding the expansion. It is not hard to guess where his heart is on this matter, however.  His heart bleeds conservative red policy and politics. He is not known for his moderation.

Medicaid expansion would bring some increased assurances toward health equity in our state, as well as insuring more Kansas kids.  From the Lawrence Journal World

Estimates indicate that Kansas’ Medicaid enrollment would increase by 135,000 people under the new rules. In addition, many more children probably would be helped, because when parents have access to insurance, it is more likely their children will, too. Estimates show that about 70 percent of Kansas children currently without health insurance actually are eligible for Medicaid but are not enrolled.

According to the 2012 KIDS COUNT data book published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kansas dropped seven spots lower in the number of insured children over a two-year period. The fact that 70 percent of them could benefit from expansion is significant.

Children are of stated (rhetorical) importance to Governor Brownback. From his zealous anti-choice positioning to his promises made on the campaign trail to reduce childhood poverty in Kansas, however, his positions on tax and social policies lead some to believe that he is more “faux life” than “pro-life.”

In 2011, the administration’s answer to childhood poverty was to marry off single mothers. This year, the creation of a right-wing task force charged with finding “cost effective ways to make sure children understand as soon as possible that their decisions can have a lasting impact on their future” is code for more of the same. Meanwhile, Kansas Action for Children recently released an analysis of Governor Brownback’s tax policy, which they find will have the following effects…

  • State revenues will be dramatically reduced – affecting available funding for necessary services such as education, the social safety net and health care.
  • The state tax system will become more unfair – increasing taxes on the lowest-income Kansans while cutting taxes for higher-income groups and certain businesses.
  • The reforms will create a broken system in regards to the tax treatment of businesses, providing a significant financial incentive to reorganize to avoid state income taxes.

They detail how 66 percent of the necessary cuts will likely come from education funding.  This in spite of the ongoing state court battles over shortfalls in educational spending.

In an interview, Representative Nile Dillmore, ranking minority member on the House Taxation Committee told Rewire the following…

Since taking office as Governor, Sam Brownback’s administration has reduced our safety net system by nearly one-third during a time when over 18% of our states children are living in poverty.  Rather than address their immediate need for food and shelter he has pushed policies that have made further reductions in assistance to our most needy a near certainty.  He has chosen a hard ideology of tax cuts to the wealthy over a helping hand to the poorest of the poor.

Kansas Action for Children has pointed out that their data indicates that while the needs of children living in poverty has increased; acquiring assistance has become more difficult.  The tightening of the requirements for assistance has been seen in food stamp policy, domestic violence grants and the proposed bills for drug testing of TANF recipients.

These policies that attack the state’s poor are not likely to cease with the results of the 2012 elections, which upped Governor Brownback’s majority to super-majority status.  Things are bound to become worse for those who are currently living in poverty.

A life of privilege versus a live in poverty, seemingly opposites at face value. These words and worlds can seem so far apart and yet really are only one devastating life circumstance away for most of us. Likewise, ideals of fairness, equality and caring should hold universal clout. They should not be aligned with a political party or ideology.

The wealthiest of Kansans should not be receiving tax cuts while at the same time other Kansans are lacking in basic life necessities such as health care, food and housing.  The conservatives of Kansas, as well as conservatives from across the nation could learn a lesson from Ava and Abby…whether it be a discussion of health care or chocolate chip cookies, doing right by others should stand as a moral and just obligation for us all.  No one should go hungry, while others dine at the table of privilege.

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