Topeka — Welfare officials Thursday announced the state would close 65 of its 105 county offices, and defended the move as a cost-effective way to deliver services to needy Kansans.
"We believe services can be equal if not better," said Janet Schalansky, secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
The announcement came one day after more than 1,000 disabled Kansans protested at the Capitol against service cuts in SRS, and in favor of a tax increase.
But Schalansky maintained that the office closings in mostly rural counties wouldn't make services more difficult to get because the agency would provide "access points" in those communities at libraries, city and county governments, and a toll-free telephone number statewide, which will be announced next month.
She said the closures were initiated by budget cuts, but were now being driven by trying to deliver services in a more efficient way. The office previously announced 22 of the offices would be closed. Thursday's announcement pushed the total to 65.
The move by SRS could affect 300,000 people who receive SRS services, such as cash assistance, food stamps or Medicaid, Schalansky said.
At the offices, clients generally receive and fill out applications for assistance and meet with caseworkers.
But Schalansky said many SRS services could now be accessed through online applications, and SRS employees may be spending more time driving to clients rather than making the clients come to them.
With improvements in computer technology and shifts in the population from rural to urban areas, "it makes sense for us to change the way we deliver services," she said. Schalansky said the state would save $300,000 by ending office leases and disconnecting phone lines. But she said she expected the savings to be greater over the long haul.
|SRS plans meetings to explain the changes and invites the public to attend:¢ 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Holton SRS office, 510 Kansas Ave.¢ 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Jefferson County Health Department, 1212 Walnut.¢ 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 15 at the Elwood Community Building.¢ 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 16 at Highland Community College, 606 W. Main St.¢ 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 21 at the Lawrence SRS office, 1901 Del.|
In the Lawrence service area, SRS will shut down offices in Jefferson, Jackson and Doniphan counties some time in the next two years. The Lawrence office will remain open.
"It will be a challenging time," said Arthurine Criswell, area director for the Lawrence region. "It's a new frontier."
She said closing offices might result in an increase in requests for services. For example, she said, some people do not like to go to an SRS office on the town square because of the stigma associated with receiving welfare.
Criswell said there was no specific timeline on closing the offices in the Lawrence area. SRS officials in Topeka said many of those decisions would depend on when leases expire on those offices.
SRS workers at the closing offices will be given a chance to stay with the agency in other jobs, but Schalansky said she expected some would quit. SRS has already laid off about 120 employees and has kept another 900 positions vacant -- more than 15 percent of the agency's work force.
Office closings will start next month with the first ones in Clay Center, Alma, Minneapolis and Lincoln.