Protests Mark Child Poverty Forums in Kansas

Pamela M. Prah
November 30, 2011

When Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced he was holding several town hall sessions on childhood poverty, there's little reason to believe he was expecting conflict. But that's what he got.

The biggest ruckus came November 16, during the second of three meetings the governor has convened on the subject this month. More than a dozen members of the Occupy Wichita movement disrupted the meeting in that city as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was giving a keynote address. The protesters stood with their backs turned to the speaker and shouted slogans criticizing the governor's policies. 

“They promote marriage while slashing programs for women,” one of the protesters said, according to an article in The Kansas Education Policy Report. The article includes an amateur video. The protesters were removed from the meeting room and a woman was arrested for obstructing legal process and resisting arrest.

Angela de Rocha, of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, says Rector’s findings “got twisted” and misinterpreted to suggest that “people can marry their way out of poverty.” “He never said that,” she argues. On the other hand, Rector has called marriage “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty.” He recently wrote a column asserting that many of the poor households as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau have air conditioning, computers and wide-screen TVs.

Rector also spoke at Brownback's first town hall meeting on child poverty, in Kansas City. The Kansas affiliate of the National Organization for Women said the sessions showed contempt for the poor and for women. “These ‘town halls’ created to perpetuate myths and sexist stereotypes about women for the political purpose of crushing welfare benefits to the needy within our state will do nothing to combat the true problem of childhood poverty,” Kari Ann Rinker of NOW wrote in a posting. 

Rob Siedlecki, secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, says the next step will be "categorize and budget score" the recommendations of the 600 people who attended the town hall meetings so that the department can better address the issue.

Kansas doesn’t have a particularly high child poverty rate, at least compared with most states. Its 18.4 percent rate for 2009-10 is actually below the national average of 21.6 percent, according to new data from the Census Bureau released November 17. Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia all had child poverty rates of 25 percent or higher, the Census Bureau said.

But Brownback was the only governor to use his 2011 state of the state address to identify reducing childhood poverty as a top priority. The issue is part of his “Roadmap for Kansas.”

This article was originally published by, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy. It is reprinted here with permission.

Pamela M. Prah writes on social policy for She is a veteran Washington reporter and is an adjunct journalism professor at American University.