Capitol Update: Rep. Woodard says Kansas ‘must expand Medicaid,’ invest in state service IT systems

"Decades of underfunding and delaying information technology upgrades have resulted in a broken, delayed, and overwhelmed IT system," said Rep. Woodard referencing issues the Kansas Department of Labor system had following the massive increase in Kansans filing for unemployment. File photo. 

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Brett Parker, Sen. Barbara Bollier and Rep. Brandon Woodard are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Woodard’s column is below.

The Kansas Legislature will return to Topeka for a single-day wrap-up session this week. What is unknown even to Legislators is what it is that we’ll be voting on, how we’ll maintain a social distance, and what bills will clear both chambers to end up on Governor Laura Kelly’s desk. I’ve done my best to keep up with the virtual committee meetings happening and the legislation being bundled for what will surely be an interesting legislative day, but there are major issues that the majority of Kansans want us to address.

Critical to the long-term recovery of our state, we must expand Medicaid to ensure that all Kansans have access to the healthcare they need, especially during and after a global health crisis. Since 2014, Kansans have sent more than $4 Billion of our tax dollars to the thirty-six states that have expanded Medicaid, rather than having those resources building healthier communities here at home.

As the unprecedented volume of Kansans filing for unemployment know all too well, decades of underfunding and delaying information technology upgrades have resulted in a broken, delayed, and overwhelmed IT system. While hundreds of Kansas Department of Labor employees work around the clock to get Kansans the unemployment benefits they need, our Legislative leadership has chosen to criticize the results of their years of inaction rather than working to invest in resolving the issues. To borrow a phrase from a colleague, “this is exactly what ‘small government’ looks like.” We must invest in our IT systems to ensure our state services, pandemic or not, are always ready to take on anything Kansans throw at them.

And, of course, the future of higher education must transform as we work to train a resilient workforce that will rebuild the Kansas economy. Before COVID-19 hit Kansas, our entire higher education system, from trade school to Ph.D. students, was prepared to graduate about 45,000 students. That alone falls short of the more than 50,000 jobs we had open. Kansas must continue making significant investments in our institutions of higher learning, to ensure that we have the skilled and talented workforce that the innovation that a post-pandemic economic recovery will require.

As Kansans, we have a unique opportunity to position ourselves to prosper as we begin to rebuild our economy, especially if we focus on legislation designed to give Kansans a hand up after they’ve been knocked down. Navigating challenges is in our DNA. Ad Astra Per Aspera.

If I can be of assistance to you or your family in navigating state resources, or you just want to follow along with what is happening in the Kansas Legislature, please reach out any time. Twitter and Facebook @Woodard4Kansas, or email me at woodardforkansas@gmail.com