John Poertner, associate professor in Kansas University's School of Social Welfare, said the job he has been asked to take on will be a tremendous challenge.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Poertner has accepted an appointment to a committee that will begin a major study of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Rep. Robert Miller, R-Wellington, majority leader in the Kansas House and vice-chairman of the special SRS committee, made the appointment.
Poertner, 49, said the challenge comes both because of the extent of problems facing SRS and the broad mandate the committee is charged with carrying out. The task will include, he said, studying the effect of federally mandated welfare programs on SRS.
"My understanding is in many areas of the state, caseloads are extremely heavy, particulary in metropolitan areas like Wichita and Kansas City, " he said. "They're dealing with the drug problem and cocaine babies."
POERTNER said his background in social administration and the work he has done with child welfare systems will be the expertise he brings to the committee.
The committee work, he said, "will balance very nicely with the other work I do."
The 24-person task force includes 17 members of the Legislature and seven non-legislative members appointed by legislative leaders. The first meeting of the task force, which is expected to study SRS for up to two years, is scheduled for Thursday.
Miller said the committee will review ways to deliver SRS services in a more cost effective manner, look for ways to cut waste and duplication of services and determine whether citizens are getting the assistance they need.
Sen. Wint Winter, R-Lawrence, one of seven senators on the task force, recommended Poertner's appointment. Poertner also was recommended by Sandy Praeger, former Lawrence mayor, and Ann Weick, dean of the School of Social Welfare.
WINTER SAID he considers the work facing the select committee among the most important in government today. He pointed to ever-increasing social needs and the expanding costs of providing for these needs.
This year the Legislature was forced to authorize SRS to spend about $30 million more than Gov. Mike Hayden recommended and the agency still faces a $30 million deficit, Winter said.
"But it isn't just how best to protect taxpayers or how best to care for those who are needy," he said of the questions surrounding the SRS issue.
"It is how in the world are we going to invest in education and job development and in the future if we cannot figure out how to fund and operate public assistance better?"