Archive for Wednesday, October 1, 2003

State welfare officials ask for budget increase

October 1, 2003

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State welfare officials have asked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to put $3.5 million in next year's budget to move almost 600 disabled Kansans off a long-stalled waiting list for services.

Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Janet Schalansky announced the request Tuesday during an open meeting with people affected by the department's budget.

"This is what we've been advocating for all summer," said Gina McDonald, president of Kansas Association of Centers for Independent Living. "We're very happy; we feel like we've been heard."

Sebelius is not expected to act on the request until presenting her proposed budget to the Legislature in early January.

In the waning hours of this year's legislative session, legislators added $20 million to the state's waiting-list budget -- $8 million in state funds, $12 in federal matching funds --thinking it would be enough to move almost 900 people off waiting lists.

But after the Legislature adjourned, SRS realized that much of the new money was needed to pay bills left over from the past fiscal year and to offset the ever-increasing costs of services.

So instead of helping almost 900 people, only about 250 were moved off the waiting lists.

"The Legislature added money to significantly reduce the waiting lists for services for both the physically disabled and the developmentally disabled," said SRS spokesman Kyle Kessler. "The money the secretary is asking for would accomplish that."

If approved, the additional money -- called a "supplemental" -- would allow SRS to fund almost 600 more openings in programs, starting in April 2004.

Attempts to reach Sebelius for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The $3.5 million supplemental would comprise $1.3 million from the state general fund and $2.2 in federal matching funds.

Other announcements:

  • Schalansky said SRS has closed offices in 26 of the state's 105 counties -- four more than expected; plans call for closing 37 more by June 30, including the Oskaloosa office.
  • SRS will receive a second $5.1 million bonus from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in recognition of its successes in helping poor people find jobs.

The first bonus, announced last week, was for the department's 2001 performance; the second was for 2002.

Schalansky said the $10.2 million would be used to offset increases in SRS caseloads.

"Without the bonuses, we'd be in a financial crisis," Schalansky said.

  • Unlike last year, SRS is not anticipating cuts in spending.

"We're going into the budget-making process with a lot more optimism than we did last year," said Arthurine Criswell, head of the SRS area office in Lawrence. "And that's good -- none of us want to go through all those cuts like we did last year."

In Lawrence, about 20 people, half of them SRS workers, attended the "stakeholders meeting," which featured Schalansky's comments via speaker phone. Last year's meeting drew more than 100.

"Attendance was down, I think, because we're not talking about cuts," Criswell said. "And that's a good thing."

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