Kansas faces unprecedented challenges as the new coronavirus sweeps through our state, sickening many and upending the economy for many others. As leaders of two groups that focus on the needs of our state’s children and families, we’re gravely concerned about the toll on our littlest residents.


For the sake of our state’s future, we know that we must prioritize Kansas kids and families. But we also know this will be tough as state revenues fall and the path out of this crisis remains uncertain.


Fortunately, Kansas can pursue a strategy that balances the needs of our families with those of the state budget.


It means being fiscally conservative and leveraging each state dollar to draw down federal funds. This isn’t money being allocated through some special coronavirus relief bill. These are federal funds that have been available for years — funds that Kansas has essentially refused to take.


Kansas ranks 48th in the federal share of its state budget, ranking above only Hawaii and Virginia. We have left dollars on the table, dollars that our own taxpayers have contributed to the federal pot. The strategy dates from former Gov. Sam Brownback’s term, and it was short-sighted even then. Now is the time to maximize our tax dollars to support Kansas kids and families


Some examples:


Through Medicaid expansion, with 90 percent of costs paid by the federal government, we can bring hundreds of millions of our tax dollars back to Kansas to help ensure Kansas families, especially the newly uninsured and frontline workers in the coverage gap, are able to access comprehensive coverage. Importantly, those dollars would ripple through the economy, helping create jobs and protect hospitals.


We can further leverage federal funds to improve Medicaid, better serving the public. Expanding and improving Medicaid will result in more kids and families having vital health coverage: increased access to screenings and preventive care, reduced prenatal costs, reduced infant mortality rates and improved health outcomes.


By taking full advantage of Child Care Development Block Grant funds., we can draw down millions in federal dollars to make child care an affordable option for more Kansas children and families.


By ensuring eligible families become enrolled in the SNAP and WIC food assistance programs (both wholly funded by federal government, we can help families afford nutritious food during and after this economic and public health emergency and put those federal dollars to work stimulating our local and state economies.


Harsh barriers to participation in work and family support programs are another painful legacy of the Brownback years. Codified in the shamefully named HOPE Act, these restrictions have blocked the neediest Kansans from receiving assistance that would transform their lives.


Even before the pandemic, some 103,000 Kansas children lived in poverty. That’s defined as a family of three that makes $21,000 a year or less. Some 40,000 Kansas children lived in deep poverty, in which a family of three makes $11,000 a year or less. This was after nearly a decade of economic expansion throughout the country.


All Kansas children should be able to succeed and thrive. In a time of projected deficits, health concerns, and national shutdown orders, we must consider how we can empower the tiniest Kansans. Smart use of state general fund dollars could leverage hundreds of millions of federal funds to cover necessary services for children and families.


It’s fiscally responsible. It’s the right thing for our future.


David Jordan is president of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund. John Wilson is the president of Kansas Action for Children.