Every community must face an ever-changing environment and its influence on human well-being. How a community responds can be shaped by effective planning. That’s where United Community Services of Johnson County comes in. Through information, collaborative planning and mobilization of resources, the availability of health and human services can be enhanced to meet present and emerging needs.
More than 120 professionals from local nonprofit organizations, city and county governments, foundations, and school districts joined together on June 14 to discuss the progress made from our 2015 Call to Action regarding Reducing Poverty and Creating Opportunity and UCS’ new initiative focused on expanding income and employability for low-income households in Johnson County.
UCS recently released a report entitled “From Foster Care to Independence: An Assessment of Best Practices to Support Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care”. This report represents the culmination of several months of research conducted by UCS in response to the 2015 Framework for Reducing Poverty and Creating Opportunity, which calls on the human services sector to increase access to the safety net for childless adults and transitional-age youth. The report includes a system assessment, review of best practices and model programs, and recommendations for stakeholders.
Local Response to the 2015 Call-to-Action
At the 2015 Summit, UCS issued a call to the human service sector to take the Framework for Reducing Poverty and Creating Opportunity, and put it into action. Many organizations responded to that call-to-action in partnership with UCS and other key stakeholders. In addition to the transitional-age foster youth report, UCS released two reports summarizing the local response to the call-to-action.
UCS hosted a three-part “Good Jobs” Workshop Series to help organizations who want to be a provider of good jobs. Executive directors and HR professionals from 10 organizations participated as a cohort in the workshops, which were facilitated by experts in the field, and gained tools and resources to implement a good jobs strategy in their own organizations.
The Talk, Read, Play message has been spread to various stakeholders in business, public health, city and county government, and the faith community. Partners also found other ways to promote high-quality early learning environments, including documentary film screenings and a book drive.
As part of the overall strategy to address poverty in Johnson County, UCS has launched the Employment Planning Project, an effort to expand household-sustaining jobs to low-income Johnson County residents. Led by a 15-member work team of community members, the project will assess the complex factors related to increasing access to training, education, and employment opportunities for residents who work but do not make enough money to meet basic needs. The Employment Planning Project will lead to the development of an implementation plan and recommended actions.
Johnson County Data
UCS has produced “Johnson County Poverty,” a PowerPoint presentation featuring the most current Census data. The 17 slides demonstrate trends since 2000, show the geography of poverty, and document the number of adults who work yet are still poor. UCS identifies four ways that the business community can aid in reducing poverty and creating opportunity.
- If poverty was a city, it would be the 5th largest city in the county; and the fastest growing city.
- 37,000 people, or 6.5% of the population, live with income below the federal poverty level ($11,770 for one person; $20,090 for three).
- 1 in 4 Johnson County census tracts have poverty rates of 10% or higher.
- The majority of poor are white and U.S. citizens.
- The majority of poor adults have at least some college education.
- 3 in 4 poor adults work at least part time or part year.
- 1 in 9 jobs in Johnson County pays an average hourly wage less than $10.
- Estimates suggest that it requires a full-time hourly wage of $28 to meet basic needs for a single parent and two children.
2015 Public Policy Forum
UCS and the United Way of Greater Kansas City hosted a Kansas Public Policy Forum on December 11 at Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park. The panel featured three issue experts and a moderated Q&A session.
The Kansas Budget: Annie McKay, Executive Director, KS Center for Economic Growth. (KCEG)
Annie presented an overview of the Kansas Budget. State general funds make up $6.3 billion of the total $15.3 billion state budget for fiscal year 2016. The majority of the state general fund comes from sales and use tax (45%) and individual income tax (40%). Most of the state general fund is spent on education and health & human services, but the unprecedented tax cuts passed by the Kansas legislature beginning in 2012 created a $1.4 billion shortfall for fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017. Analysis by KCEG showed that various sweeps and cuts from other state funds are being used in an attempt to balance the budget, but it is not enough to fund critical programs or maintain the safety net for the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Food Sales Tax: Ashley Jones-Wisner, State Policy Manager, KC Healthy Kids
Ashley provided an analysis of why the sales tax on food is such an important policy issue, citing the low consumption rates of fruits and vegetables and the poor health outcomes in Kansas. Kansas has the highest sales tax on food in the nation, which leads to residents in border cities to purchase their groceries in surrounding states. The food sales tax is especially harmful for low-income families who spend more of their income on groceries than other income groups. KC Healthy Kids recently commissioned an economic study from Wichita State University, which will lead to a series of papers analyzing the impact of the food sales tax, including its impact on rural grocers. Ashley notes that this issue is relevant to many different sectors and therefore has great potential for grassroots support in the 2016 legislative session.
KanCare Expansion: Audrey Dunkel, Director Financial Advocacy, Kansas Hospital Association
Kansas remains one of 20 states that has not expanded Medicaid, known as KanCare, as part of the Affordable Care Act. This has led to large gaps in health care coverage, leaving many low-income adults with no health insurance options. Approximately 150,000 working Kansans would become eligible for coverage if KanCare is expanded. Furthermore, research has shown that Medicaid expansion would create jobs, save millions of dollars in health care costs, and increase state revenue. Since January 2014, more than three quarters of a billion dollars in taxpayer dollars have left Kansas and are going to the federal government to support expansion in other states. While public support is high, Kansas Hospital Association encourages Kansas residents to contact their elected officials and advocate for Expansion in the 2016 legislative session.
Leaders from Johnson County Cities Meet to Discuss Poverty and Opportunities for Action
City leaders from across Johnson County gathered on August 18, 2015 for a conversation on poverty, co-hosted by Johnson County Government and UCS. The purpose of the event was to provide city staff leaders the opportunity to learn more about poverty trends , share what is being done locally to address poverty, and consider innovative ways to improve our collective impact. UCS presented strategies for cities to address poverty, which can be found here.
A Focus on Poverty
UCS released the Frame for Reducing Poverty and Creating Opportunity and issued a Call to Action to the health and human service sector in June 2015.
- Make every health and human service sector job a “good job”
- Promote “Talk, Read, Play” with employees, clients, and stakeholders
- Increase access to safety net supports for adults without children and transitional age youth
Johnson County Poverty, a two-page overview of local poverty.
Now available, the Spring 2016 UCS Community Report