Topeka A very disappointed Robert Harder appeared before a Kansas House subcommittee Saturday afternoon to make suggestions about which SRS programs could be cut to accommodate a lack of state revenue.
Harder, acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, had prepared a list of possible cuts the Legislature could make, depending on the size of the budget shortfall. He said the list was not prioritized, and much still depended on the amount of money that needed to be cut from the SRS budget.
The House began planning for budget cuts Saturday, the day after the Senate rejected a plan to increase state revenues. Estimates on the amount of cuts needed cut ranged from $100 million to $200 million.
Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita and chairman of the subcommittee, said House members did not yet know how much must be trimmed from the SRS budget, but expected know by this afternoon.
BUT HARDER, who came out of retirement to run SRS at the request of Gov. Joan Finney, didn't work from the list of program cuts he had prepared when speaking to the subcommittee.
Rather, he suggested that this year lawmakers should drive home the severity of problems facing the state agency.
"Over 20 years we've eliminated programs for the working poor and frozen reimbursement rates," he said. "Instead of nickel and diming taking here and there to pick up more money, one possibility is to dramatize the problem in a clear way."
Harder had a number of suggestions to lawmakers about how this could be done.
They included shutting down a state hospital for the mentally retarded, cutting eligibility for the care of elderly in nursing homes, cutting every prevention program lawmakers had put in the SRS budget this year to keep people off more expensive social service programs later, and cutting large numbers of SRS staff.
HARDER ALSO suggested pulling the budget for long-term nursing home care out of the SRS budget completely, forcing lawmakers to vote on it separately.
Long-term care is one of the fastest-growing costs facing the state, and Harder suggested that if lawmakers have to look at it separately, it may not be so easy for them to cut.
"There are 440 nursing homes in Kansas, and my guess is every representative district has one or two or three" nursing homes, he said. "The question then becomes, do we support nursing homes in our area or not?"
Harder, who ran SRS for 20 years prior to the administration of former Gov. Mike Hayden, told lawmakers that preventive programs became a priority for this year's Legislature as budgets were being prepared.
Lawmakers, he said, "made a deliberate decision in a tight year to do preventive work rather than more ambulance work," he said, adding that commitments were made this year to programs to keep people from needing nursing home care and to keep them out of costly state institutions.
BUT HARDER said that in previous years, any enhancements to the SRS budget, such as those for prevention programs, usually have been the first cut.
In his list of possible program cuts, Harder showed where money could be made up depending on the size of the cut.
The list ranged all the way from a planned expansion of the Homecare program that provides help for elderly people living at home, for a savings of $1.5 million, to a cut of a proposed $4.50 a month increase in Aid to Families with Dependent Children, for a savings of $1.7 million.
Other potential cuts include the complete elimination of the MediKan program that provides medical assistance to poor people who do not qualify for any federal program, for a savings of $4.2 million, and the elimination of 34 new SRS child protective services positions.
BURIAL assistance for people on state welfare programs also was one of the possible cuts suggested. That would save $795,709.
Harder said he much preferred cutting entire programs rather than hitting all programs across the board.
"As an agency, we're been cutting since the early '70s," he said, noting that entire eligibility groups have been eliminated and medical assistance programs cut. "We've gotten to the point where there's not a lot of flexibility left."
Also asked to testify were a number of lobbyists for social services programs.
One of them, Yo Bestgen, representing the Kansas Agency of Rehabilitation Facilities, read a newspaper clipping at the close of her testimony.
Under the headline "Twenty years ago," the clipping from 1971 said:
"Robert Harder, state director of welfare, confirmed his department was considering reduction of payments to both medical vendors and welfare recipients before the start of the new fiscal year. Harder, whose agency suffered some of the deepest budget cuts enacted by the 1971 Legislature, said `Right now we're looking at all the possible alternatives.'"