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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Governor urges social services advocates to pressure legislators

March 31, 2004

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius urged social service advocates who rallied at the Statehouse on Wednesday to pressure legislators to put more money into programs for elderly, disabled and needy Kansans.

"You all are their bosses," Sebelius said, drawing applause from the crowd of about 250 people. "They work for you, so make sure they hear from you and they know you're paying attention."

The rally was convened by the Big Tent Coalition, an alliance of more than 80 advocacy groups that wants to eliminate waiting lists for in-home services, keep more seniors out of nursing homes, increase payments to doctors and hospitals that serve the poor and improve dental services for needy adults.

Sebelius has gained legislative agreement for a $13 million increase in the upcoming fiscal year for a program that provides in-home services to disabled and "frail" elderly Kansans.

But members of the coalition say achieving their goals would cost an additional $54 million.

"The governor has started the good work," coalition spokeswoman Shannon Jones told the crowd. "The reason we are here today is to tell our legislators that there is still unfinished business."

Sebelius said later she would continue to look for additional money to put toward the coalition's agenda.

"These, I think, are folks who have to be the top priority," Sebelius said.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld said Sebelius and many legislators have made education the top priority by proposing higher taxes to provide more money for schools. Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said he worries that state revenues will slump otherwise.

As for social services, Neufeld said, "There's much more likelihood that the amount we have in the current budget will have to be reduced than that it will be increased."

The coalition said that even with the extra money Sebelius proposed, hundreds of disabled and elderly Kansans still will wait for in-home services.

Zach Coble, a 19-year-old University of Kansas student, said rallies are valuable even if legislators add only a little extra money to the budget in response.

"Every year we gain a little bit, that'll make the job easier" in the future, said Coble, who has cerebral palsy.

The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services would receive $801 million in general state revenue -- an increase of $93 million -- next year under the compromise budget drafted by House and Senate negotiators.

But much of the increase will go toward the rising cost of providing health care to the poor and to covering expenses currently funded by a one-time receipt of $40 million under the Federal Budget Relief Act.

The Legislature is expected to debate the $10.2 billion compromise budget before its annual spring recess begins Friday. Legislators will consider one final budget bill when they reconvene on April 28 to wrap up the year's business.




For more on this story, pick up a copy of Thursday's Journal-World.

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