The health and well being of Missouri’s children were the topics of discussion Thursday as 15 Kansas City-area statehouse candidates addressed issues ranging from foster care, health insurance and preschool education.
Some of the sharpest area of disagreement during the 2 ½-hour forum, hosted by six area organizations that serve and advocate for children, came between Democrats and Republicans vying for the same seats.
For example, Democrat Jeremy LaFaver said that one way to improve the state’s foster care system would be to increase benefits for adoptive parents. Adopted children lose Medicaid eligibility and many other benefits they receive in foster care, he said.
“We really need to look at what are we incentivizing and how are we providing for our kids once they become adopted children,” said LaFaver, who lobbies for several nonprofit organizations through his firm, LaFaver & Associates.
LaFaver is unopposed in the Aug. 7 primary for the 25th House District, which includes the Brookside and Waldo neighborhoods and the Ward Parkway corridor. The general election is Nov. 6.
The Republican primary features Joshua Judy and Sally Miller. Miller did not attend the forum.
According to data presented by the forum sponsors, foster care parents receive $377 a month for children between the ages of 9 and 11. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the monthly cost of supporting a child of that age in Missouri is $780, according to the data.
In addressing the foster care issue, Judy stressed his campaign theme of providing better government services through greater efficiency.
“It would be great to be able to fully fund everything to solve everything,” said Judy, a restaurant worker.
But that’s not possible given the state’s budget situation, he said. State agencies need to be run better and should coordinate with nonprofit organizations, he said.
Organized by the Partnership for Children, a Kansas City-based advocacy group, the event drew about 60 people. The forum took place at the offices of Kansas City Public Television.
The Partnership for Children invited nearly 100 candidates from the Kansas City area.
Candidates received six questions prior to the event, though they did not know which two they would be asked to address. Opposing candidates answered the same questions.
Chris Lievsay was the only other Republican participant.
He is running for the 31st House District, which encompasses an area south of Interstate 70 that includes Blue Springs and surrounding communities. He faces one opponent in the primary.
The other forum participant from that race was Democrat Dale Walkup. He also faces one opponent in the primary.
Lievsay is a Blue Springs city councilman and Walkup is a longtime member of the Blue Springs school board.
Asked about his views on how to decrease the number of Missouri children without health insurance, Lievsay said he thought the state was doing a good job through Medicaid and the state Children’s Health Insurance Program.
He noted Partnership for Children’s statistic that more than 150,000 Missouri children lack coverage. But he said that was out of total population of about one million kids.
“Government does not have to be, and probably should not be, the only entity providing health care to children,” he said. “Coordination of not only government resources, but also private resources and nonprofits are what’s going to help fill this gap here.”
But Walkup called for increased benefits and reform of the state Family Support Division, which oversees the Medicaid and CHIP programs.
“DFS is a quagmire,” he said.
The only Senate contest featured at the forum was the 7th District race between Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams and state Rep. Jason Holsman. They face each other in the Democratic primary in a race that features no Republican candidate.
Williams and Holsman agreed that they aren’t far apart on the issues. Both called for more investment from the state in early childhood education.
In her opening statement, Williams stressed her two decades of work lobbying state lawmakers on behalf of nonprofits.
“I’ve walked the halls on behalf of children, women, the voter, I’ve done a lot of work there,” she said. “But the proudest and most important work I have done has been on children’s issues.”
Holsman noted his legislative work on behalf of early childhood development, health insurance for children under the age of 18, and school funding.
As a former teacher and coach in Kansas City Public Schools, Holsman said, “I believe in action, and I believe in deeds, more than I do words.”
The Health Forward Foundation is proud to partner with the Kansas Health Institute news service to provide weekly health stories about health and policy issues impacting the greater Kansas City region. This News Service is an editorially independent program of the Kansas Health Institute and the Health Forward Foundation and is committed to objective coverage of health issues.