Congressional candidates on the issues: Helping middle class families afford the costs of raising kids

College representatives gathered at the annual Shawnee Mission College Clinic. The cost of college has risen sharply over the past decades.

With readers’ input, we developed a five-item questionnaire last month for the candidates whose names will appear on the primary ballot for the Kansas 3rd Congressional District seat.

Today, we begin running the candidates’ responses — and we will have a set of answers to a new item each day this week.

Here’s question one:

The costs of college, child care and health care have all risen much faster than wages over the past decades, a trend that has strained the budgets of middle class families. What policies would you advocate for in Congress to help middle class families here afford the costs needed to raise children?

Democratic candidates

Sharice Davids

Whether you’re raising a family or trying to make ends meet yourself, the cost of being middle class has become increasingly difficult to pay. I believe it is a responsibility of Congress to create policies that expand economic opportunities for everyone and help make the American Dream a reality.

In Congress, I will fight for a living wage, for quality public education, for more attainable higher education, for affordable access to quality healthcare.

I was able to work my way from Johnson County Community College to Cornell Law School because of the foundation I received at public schools. Increasing access to quality public education – no matter the zip code – is key for our communities and our economies. Supporting and expanding Head Start and other Pre-K programs, in addition to afterschool and summer programs, increases educational opportunities and benefits households were adults are working long hours to support their families. I also support a childcare tax credit to help support working families.

I myself carry large student loan debt and know first-hand what a burden that is to our students, families, and economies. I would support policies that enable people to refinance student loans at lower rates and make it easier to renegotiate a loan’s terms. In addition, I would also support initiatives such as loan forgiveness programs for those entering public service. Expanding skills-based training programs, supporting community colleges and trade schools, and addressing the rising costs of higher education should all be priorities of our next Congress.

As should increasing the minimum wage, ensuring that everyone who is working hard in America can afford the basic necessities and provide for themselves. As should expanding access to quality, affordable healthcare – which should be a right of everyone in America.

Mike McCamon

At the recent Human Services Summit in Overland Park, research was presented that showed the cost of living in Overland Park for a single parent family with one child is $58,644 per year. To make ends meet, this would translate into that parent finding work that pays $28.19 per hour. Add another child, and the hourly wage needed is $35.24. The challenge for working and middle class families in our area is real and we should respond to this need.

I believe our country should ensure every family has a livable income and the way to do this is not through an arbitrarily inflated minimum wage. Some tweaks would be needed, but I would advocate that we accomplish this goal through our existing Earned Income Tax Credit feature of the Income Tax code. The logic is that arbitrary wage controls further increase the baseline costs for families for which this policy is designed to help because generally companies pass on higher labor costs through increased prices.

When it comes to healthcare costs, we should endeavor to make the Affordable Care Act successful. It is imperfect, but it is the right first step towards a Universal Healthcare system. Congress should limit the ability of our President from sabotaging this law. His actions only further destabilize the healthcare market and increases health insurance premiums for everyone.

Apart from Federal policy, I would champion efforts by working with state and municipal leaders to increase the diversity and affordability of housing for working families in our area. I would also work with our community colleges to lower the costs of higher education but I would not favor free college education. I have met with the leadership of these institutions, and they have consistently told me college should be affordable, but free college would not be successful – students need to have some, even if only modest, financial risk to keep focused on the value of their studies.

Working and middle class families in our area need better advocates in Congress. Having grown up in a single parent household after my father passed away when I was 11, I am very aware of the hardships these families face, and I will work tirelessly to ensure everyone gets a fair chance at opportunity in our country

Tom Niermann

I’ve been a part of a working, middle class family my entire life. My dad was a Lutheran minister and my mom was a music teacher. My wife, Katie, and I are both teachers.

By the time I had a family of my own, working families were asked to do so much more with so much less. When we first had kids, we found out childcare costs equaled my wife’s salary. She decided to stay home with the kids until they were school aged, and I had to make up her salary. So I worked three jobs – teaching until 3 p.m., hauling furniture until night, and teaching night classes at Johnson County Community College. I hauled furniture and graded all weekend, and only got to see my children awake on Sundays.

But the challenges continued to mount – our insurance premiums through Shawnee Mission East rose to match our mortgage. I sought out independent insurance, but was denied because Katie had a pre-existing condition.

Every working family knows what it means to be completely out of options, and that’s where we were – facing almost certain financial ruin through no fault of our own. It was a miracle we got a call from Pembroke Hill, which, though it was a pay cut, offered more affordable insurance premiums. I continued to work multiple jobs to make ends meet until we kicked off this campaign.

The middle class has shrunk precisely because our experience is so common – the ordinary costs of raising a family are enough to bankrupt families doing everything right. Wages have stagnated while the rich get richer, because we are in the grip of a failed economic theory that advances fiscally irresponsible tax cuts for the very wealthiest, without paying any heed to the faltering incomes of ordinary Americans. It’s an emergency that only Congress can address.

Congress must repeal and rework the $1.5 trillion tax giveaway Republicans just handed to their donors, and invest it in infrastructure that will create jobs and prepare our economy for the 21st century, and a real tax cut for middle class Americans. We’ve got to index the minimum wage to our cost of living, starting with $15 dollars. And we absolutely must provide immediate health care relief to working families, reverse the sabotage Trump has done to the Affordable Care Act, while we work toward a solution that guarantees health care coverage for all Americans.

Jay Sidie

There are a number of actions Congress can take to help middle-class families afford the costs of raising children. First, we need to expand the availability and affordability of high-quality child care throughout the United States. We alone stand out among Western nations in our failure to invest in child care for all. Money invested in our children can help them succeed later in life. It also allows parents to focus on both family and career advancement, the latter leading to increased earnings and contributions to a better economy. Specifically, we can look at expanding contributions to the Childcare and Development Fund, increasing the child care tax credit, and upping investments in Early Head Start and Head Start programs.

Second, our children must have affordable, quality medical and mental health care. We need to address the costs associated with health care, target high prescription drug prices and ensure our nation’s children benefit from preventative care. One area to highlight: President Trump has proposed cutting funding for CHIP, a federal program for children’s health insurance. I oppose this idea. Congress needs make sure our youngest and most vulnerable have health care coverage.

Finally, students (and their families) should be able to afford a college education without going into lifelong debt. Congress needs to look at ways to ensure college education is in reach for everyone who seeks it. We also need to take a hard line on for-profit colleges who commit fraud and participate in predatory practices, and we must provide debt relief to students who have been taken advantage of through these predatory lending practices.

Brent Welder

The first and most important thing we can do is pass expanded Medicare for All so families don’t have to worry about being financially crippled by medical debt. Every woman, man and child in this country deserves to know that they will be cared for when they are sick as a right, regardless of the size of their bank accounts. It is time for our country to catch up with the rest of the world in caring for our people.

We also need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Kansas families cannot live on less, and so when I get to Congress, I will join with the over 80% Democrats in Congress that have already co-sponsored $15 minimum wage legislation to make this happen. Raising the minimum wage will boost our local economy, growing the customer base for our local businesses and make wages rise for people at all income levels.

Finally, we need to have an education system that gives our kids a good start, hope for a better future, and an equal opportunity to succeed. We should expand pre-kindergarten to every child. This will alleviate child care costs at the same time as making sure every child is learning from the start. Then we need to make sure that every student sees a path forward by making sure we have debt-free college education and trade schools. When I am in Congress I will co-sponsor the Debt-Free College Act of 2018.

Sylvia Williams

One of our largest threats to middle class families is the lack of wage growth. This alarming trend has been compounded by the increasing cost of child care, health care, and higher education.

We have to implement policies that will improve wages for working families. We need real solutions and not one time simple fixes. I support annualized increases to the minimum wage based on the rate of inflation. This would be following an initial increase to the starting base rate.

A single payer health system would improve outcomes and decrease cost. It will take time to move towards that system due to the complications embedded within the current health care system. I am not willing to ask middle class families for patience. We need interim fixes to the ACA that will bring down costs today. Some of those solutions include addressing the cost of prescription drugs, improving access to private and public plans, and implementing premium guidelines for working families.

In the United States, couples spend 25.6% of their income on child care and single parents spend 52.7%. We currently have a mixed economy system between the public and private sector. I support improving federally funded programs such as Head Start and further support from state funded programs such as pre-kindergarten.

We also need to reduce the cost of paying for college with improved oversight and access to fair loan programs. The Student Loan Marketing Association (Sallie Mae) is the primary loan program for college education loans. It was initially a government-sponsored program but was privatized in 1997 (the process fully completed in 2004). Since that time, the cost of college loans has increased and many have questioned their business practices. I believe we need to reintroduce a primary government-sponsored option that will reduce cost and allow for refinancing.

Republican candidates

Trevor Keegan

The last 10 years have been especially hard on middle class families, as we were the ones most hurt by the Great Recession. It is sad how soon we have forgotten what led to the collapse of the economy 10 years ago. Many in Washington, Kevin Yoder included, are now pushing to repeal many of the regulations put in place to avoid similar issues in the future. Perhaps some of these regulations do need to be modified, but we cannot give free reign to big banks, as we have seen what happens when we do. Making sure we keep appropriate regulations in place will help avoid a similar economic collapse in the future.

I am also troubled by the constant focus by some in Washington to reduce taxes on big business and the rich as a way to improve the economy. In Kansas, we have seen first-hand that trickle-down economics does not work. Reducing taxes on businesses obviously help those business be more profitable, but when those cuts also cut funding for important programs like schools and infrastructure, not only will the businesses be hurt in the long run, but so will the lower and middle class. Education is one of the most important services that our government provides. It helps lift people out of poverty and is the only way we can remain competitive in a global economy. Government dollars must be spent wisely to help our children succeed in the future’s global economy. That means not only technology jobs, but the skilled trades, and we need to make sure the federal government continues funding programs supporting this type of education. We also need to take appropriate steps to make sure that CEOs are not making 400 times more than their workers, which are the backbone of their company. This means appropriately taxing executive compensation, including stock options.

Why is Washington pushing policies that benefit big business and the rich? The answer is simple; money. There is too much money in politics, and therefore our representatives are pushing policies of the individuals and PACs backing their campaigns. As your congressman, I would push for campaign finance reform, so our representatives can start to focus on our priorities, the priorities of the middle class. Only when Washington starts caring about us will we be able to make significant progress on these issues that impact the middle class.

Joe Myers

I think the US must adopt a single-payer healthcare system. That will be the key to the nation’s full healthcare system. With this in place, there is certain to make college education more affordable, to all who want and need a college education.

Rep. Kevin Yoder

Did not respond

Check back tomorrow for the candidates’ responses to item two:

The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Santa Fe High Schools this year have renewed the debate over gun control and school safety in the United States. What is the best way to prevent school shootings? Should additional gun control laws be part of the approach?