By John Wilson Kansas Reflector
This Saturday, we celebrated Kansas Day, marking our state’s beginnings and contributions to this nation. We have much to be proud of: our fields are teeming with wheat, corn and soybeans, and our pastures are full of cattle. The state has plenty of food produced right here in our communities.
But despite Kansas’ food production, 1 in 8 Kansas children and 1 in 6 Kansas children go hungry. This is a staggering statistic, and we need to deal with it.
The problem is not new, but it has certainly been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, food insecurity in Kansas has increased from 12.1% to 14.1% in 2020. That’s an additional 58,000 people in our state who likely don’t know where their next meal will come from.
We currently pay the second highest state food sales tax in the entire country. This legislative session, lawmakers have an opportunity to help these hungry Kansas families put food on their tables. Four bills have already been introduced – two in the House and two in the Senate – that would eliminate the 6.5% sales tax on food.
The change would save an average Kansas family of four about $500 a year. For families living on low or moderate wages, the effect will be particularly strong, helping them stretch their budget to pay for more nutritious food and other basic necessities.
The proposal has broad bipartisan support, as we captured in a letter to legislative leaders signed by hundreds of organizations and individuals across the state. These organizations include food pantries, child care agencies, food safety groups, faith-based organizations and many more united by a single goal: to end the state sales tax on food in Kansas.
Ending this tax will help people in big cities pay historically high housing costs. This will help the economies of rural border communities. This will help families feed their children. It will help people who have to live on one low-wage income.
While we may differ in our rationales for supporting this policy, we are united in our efforts to make this change a reality for all Kansans.
Last week, the House Taxation Committee held hearings on two bills — HB 2484 and HB 2487 — that would eliminate this tax. On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Assessment and Taxation held hearings on SB 339 and SB 342, which are identical to House bills. We need these lawmakers to commit to passing a simple, fiscally responsible bill that will improve the lives of all Kansans, and they must not add big ticket items that will hurt the state budget we’ve worked for. so hard to fix over the past five years.
The State of Kansas is projecting a sizable surplus for the coming fiscal year, and we know Kansas can afford to end this tax altogether while paying its long-term bills. Lawmakers on these committees must continue to center these bills on the benefit of every person living in Kansas — not as vehicles for the benefit of the wealthy and well-connected.
We are also pleased to note that the Legislative Assembly is considering two other bills that would directly help needy Kansans become eligible for food assistance. HB 2215 would remove the ban on people convicted of drug offenses from receiving SNAP benefits, helping them focus on integrating into society rather than starving for food.
HB 2525 would remove the alimony cooperation requirement to access child support and child care, as well as exempt students from the 20-hour-per-week work requirement. This bill would help break down counterproductive barriers so parents can provide for their children, focus on school or work, and achieve financial stability and independence.
These are just three immediate ways the Kansas Legislature can help hungry Kansans put food on their tables. I am grateful for how far these bills have come in the first month of the 2022 legislative session. However, the work has only just begun.
I hope the bipartisan support these ideas have in the Legislative Assembly remains strong this session. Kansas Action for Children and our partners across the state will do everything possible to see them become law.
— John Wilson is president of Kansas Action for Children.