Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers said he hopes to present a report on ideas for increasing rural economic growth ready for Gov. Laura Kelly in September.
Rogers spoke to The Mercury Thursday while he was in Manhattan for the fourth-annual Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth.
He said he wanted to use his time at the summit to gather input from farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses on strengthening the rural Kansas economy.
“Agriculture is a huge part (of the economy),” he said. “One thing I tell my urban friends is if rural Kansas suffers, urban Kansas suffers as well. We really have to work together as a team to make Kansas move forward.”
Rogers has led the process of developing the Office of Rural Prosperity, one of Kelly’s campaign promises from 2018.
Since June, Rogers said he has visited 44 cities in 23 counties, traveling almost 5,000 miles and holding about 150 events.
He said the people he spoke to during these events laid out some ideas of what they would like to see: high-paying jobs, updated housing, broadband access and better health care options.
“People are really concerned about what’s happening in their hospitals and access to doctors and medical care,” he said. “They really want the state to start addressing those issues.”
Rogers said the state could help the situation through Medicaid expansion, one of the Kelly administration’s high priorities.
States have the ability to expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals and families who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
Currently in Kansas, families that earn up to 38% of the federal poverty level are eligible. Kansas adults who aren’t elderly and don’t have children are not eligible at any income level under the current program.
Although an expansion vote didn’t occur in the Senate during the legislative session, Rogers said he’s hopeful that it happens when the next session starts in January.
The bill passed the House, and Rogers said the Senate would have the votes to pass expansion as well once a bill comes before them.
“We’re going to take the Republican leadership at their word that they’re going to come back with something in early January,” he said.
In addition to the report, Rogers said officials will develop task forces for housing, broadband and workforce development.
“We’re going to take experts from all of the different agencies and sit them down and work together on some of these issues,” he said. “We want to take down the silos between the state agencies.”
Rogers said it’s important for the state to provide support to rural communities on these issues because they might not have the resources or the staff for certain projects.
“A lot of the small towns in Kansas don’t have any paid employees (in the city government) or very few,” he said. “If they wanted to do a grant for something, it would have to be volunteer-oriented. There’s some technical assistance we hope we can provide at the state level.”
Rogers said the office’s goal is also to share the success stories of rural communities. “We want to make sure we share those stories with others in the state, so they don’t have to start from scratch,” he said.
Rogers said the office is still taking feedback at ruralkanprosper.ks.gov.