When asked recently about the biggest problem facing Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback paused.
“Decline of the family structure,” he finally answered.
While problems for families always demand attention and action, the governor hasn’t helped.
At the start of his second term, he promised to fight for the “weakest” Kansans, yet did the opposite — to include blocking Medicaid expansion.
At the time, an estimated 169,000 impoverished or working poor in the state would have received access to health-care coverage. Brownback didn’t care, and his stubborn opposition to Medicaid expansion was proof.
Poverty only worsened on his watch. He made it harder for Kansans to access safety-net programs by slashing childcare tax credits and targeting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
TANF offers temporary aid with housing, food, childcare and other necessities to help the working poor navigate challenging times.
Brownback’s camp erased millions of dollars for TANF and its employment services, and new restrictions left fewer Kansans qualified for the program — but not necessarily because they were financially secure.
The governor then pointed to a declining number of people receiving assistance as a success story, when in truth his punitive policies forced Kansans in need off welfare rolls.
Representatives of Kansas-based social services agencies who understand reality reported poor children still going hungry, and other tragic fallout.
Brownback and fellow ultraconservatives endorsed all of that damage along with hits to other vital services to protect their income-tax breaks for wealthy Kansans.
While the governor could have helped struggling families, he instead faithfully followed the radical-right path paved by the Koch brothers and organizations they support: American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, Kansas Chamber and others intent on gutting government-support programs to cover tax breaks for the rich.
Many less fortunate Kansans and their children suffered as a result, which was one of many reasons the governor’s popularity ratings sank to the worst in the nation.
Moving forward, the hope is Brownback’s planned departure to become President Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom leads to more thoughtful, compassionate leadership for the state.
Many Kansans would benefit from a fresh start, and none more so than vulnerable families in our midst.