Kansas families in the low- to moderate-income brackets would argue with reports of recovery from the economic recession. According to the 2013 Kansas Kids Count report, nearly one in four Kansas children is living in poverty.
In Pratt County, the figure is closer to one in five; in real numbers, 400 local children live in families with incomes at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level — $23,550 for a family of four.
Families earning 200 percent of poverty — $47,100 for a family of four — qualify for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provides free or low cost insurance. The median income — half below and half above — for Pratt Countians is a little less than $45,000.
More than half of local children in poverty are enrolled for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamp) benefits and a tiny fraction receive state subsidies for child care or TANF (temporary assistance for needy families).
More than 40 percent of local public school children receive free or reduced price lunches, compared to nearly 50 percent statewide.
The Kansas Department of Education uses free lunch enrollment as a main factor in determining at-risk funding that schools receive.
Statewide, enrollment in assistance programs has declined, due, according to Kansas Action for Children, which issued the report, to "administrative changes made by the Department of Children and Families without legislative oversight or consideration for the impact on families."
Head Start, which has a goal of improving outcomes for children living in poverty, reduced its services last summer in response to curtailment of federal funds. The Head Start preschool program that had served 33 Pratt children closed.
"Many Kansas families haven't yet responded from the recession. These are working parents who aren't able to earn enough to make ends meet — they need these programs to help them feed their children and keep them healthy and safe," said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children.
Directors of local programs, such as Pratt County FoodBank, Inc., and Pass It Forward, a source of free household furnishings and other assistance, indicate an increasing need for their services. More people requested emergency assistance through Salvation Army in 2013 than in the prior year.
A couple of programs for children in need come to the front during the holiday season. The Angel Tree program and Toys for Tots will serve more than 300 children this year.