I welcome the letter to the editor published in 913’s April 23 edition regarding my column in this space a week earlier. While I don’t agree with some of the conclusions in the letter, these pages should, after all, be a marketplace of ideas and discussion.
It is especially interesting to hear from someone in Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, which has drawn more attention to its approach to governing than any Kansas gubernatorial administration in recent memory.
The letter shared details about various benefit programs administered by the Department of Children and Families, or DCF. Kathe Decker, deputy secretary, also stated that the DCF has helped 7,239 people find employment since January 2013 and has helped 1,213 people with disabilities find jobs this year.
However, any discussion of issues such as poverty, hunger and inadequate health care in Kansas should not be limited to a snapshot of government activities, as valuable as they may be.
There is a big picture outside the bureaucracy that shows individual Kansans, community groups, churches, nonprofit organizations and philanthropies busy at work helping the needy. This volunteer effort by the private sector is filling a tremendous gap.
A story published by the Kansas Health Institute’s news service noted that more than 433,000 Kansans, or 16 percent of the state population, are in households considered to be “food insecure.” Kansas Action for Children, or KAC, finds that nearly one-half of the school children are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches because of their parents’ financial straits. State education department reports show there were 9,330 homeless students in school last year.
The private-sector groups are attempting to help meet these needs. Harvesters, a community food network group based in the Kansas City area, provided 14.2 million pounds of food in the past year to places such as food pantries and soup kitchens in the northeast part of the state, including Johnson and Wyandotte counties. The Kansas Food Bank in Wichita delivered 11.5 million pounds of food in other parts of the state. The St. Joseph-based Second Harvest Community Food Bank distributed 6 million pounds of foodstuffs in outlying northeast Kansas counties.
One of the more visible groups focusing on poverty-related issues is the Kansas Health Institute, or KHI. If you want to know more, check out its news service at www.khi.org.
Visible, too, is the Topeka-based KAC. Its activities include research into the plight of children.
“Childhood poverty in Kansas has been climbing for more than a decade,’’ said Shannon Cotsoradis, KAC president. ‘’That’s true no matter what data source you look at. Although this trend started before the current administration took office, the policy choices made by the (Brownback) administration are making it more difficult for struggling families to find a pathway out of poverty.’’
I think we can agree that many Kansans are mired in poverty. It is most fortunate that the private sector is responding, especially on behalf of the children, who, through no fault of their own, were born into families in need.
This vital issue will require the government, the private sector and, indeed, the citizens of Kansas to join in an effort to create more effective solutions.
Freelancer Bob Sigman is a former member of The Star’s Editorial Board.