Four Lawrence legislators sent a letter to the head of the state's Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services protesting changes in the child-care payment formula for state-assisted children.
Rep. Forrest Swall, D-Lawrence, said SRS' move in May to an hourly rate structure for child-care providers would result in loss of subsidized child-care spaces in Lawrence and other cities.
"It really affects Douglas County adversely," said Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, who also signed the letter.
The letter to SRS Secretary Donna Whiteman was signed Monday by Republican Sen. Sandy Praeger and Democratic Reps. Barbara Ballard, Charlton and Swall.
Whiteman hadn't received the letter as of this morning, but she did speak by telephone with Swall about his child-care concerns.
"Those providers expressing concern may be overreacting," Tim Hoyt, SRS spokesman, said today. "But we are monitoring the system constantly to see how providers are affected."
Hoyt said SRS had a finite amount of money in its budget for child care. Cost containment is necessary to prevent creation of waiting lists for child-care services in many areas of Kansas, he said.
"We would like to have the money to hold everyone harmless, meaning no one would be getting less than last year. But we do not," Hoyt said. "It is not a perfect system, but it is an improvement over the previous system."
Each month, SRS pays child-care providers who contract with the agency to care for children from low-income working families receiving state financial assistance.
SRS had paid providers for each three- or four-hour block of time children were at providers' houses or centers. Now, SRS pays by the hour. That could cost providers thousands of dollars a year.
The reason is that under the old system, providers would have been paid for the three- or four-hour block even if child care was provided for less than the entire three or four hours.
Charlton said the Lawrence legislative delegation was concerned that new pricing guidelines were based on a flawed rate survey of Douglas County.
"We want them to look at another survey," Charlton said. "We're not looking for special treatment."
Hoyt said the survey was the most professional assessment of child-care rates ever done in Kansas.
The Lawrence legislators wrote that the loss of SRS child-care spaces in Douglas County would most heavily affect low-income families who need part-time child care while working or going to school.
Swall said SRS's decision to pay higher rates for registered day-care homes over licensed day-care homes would weaken child-care standards in the state.
"The newly announced home day-care rates discount the value of licensed homes. It sends the wrong message to home care providers," the letter said.