The Kansas budget on Tuesday continued on a downward spiral with a delayed payment to school districts and cuts in senior services, even while the state expanded a health program for children.
The Kansas Department on Aging announced the suspension of four services in a federal-state program that is designed to keep low-income seniors in their own homes rather than go to nursing homes. The action will affect 550 elderly people.
“This was not an easy decision,” said Acting Secretary of Aging Martin Kennedy. “We know these are services that many Kansas seniors rely upon to stay in their homes. But we can’t continue to provide them and stay within our budget. However, we’ll continue to monitor expenditures and restore these services if conditions allow.”
The suspended services provide dental work and assistive technology support, which includes pieces of equipment, such as grab bars and bath benches, and home modifications, such as ramps. In addition, sleep cycle support was ended, which helps people who need assistance or observation overnight. The agency also stopped comprehensive support services, which provides a wide range of assistance, such as reading and addressing mail.
The reductions were implemented because of spending cuts that Gov. Mark Parkinson made in November to balance the state budget because tax revenues have fallen short of estimates. The state budget has undergone five rounds of cuts, and lawmakers still face a shortfall of about $300 million when the 2010 legislative session starts Monday.
Kennedy said that the services suspended are those most recently added to the program and that by cutting them the agency can continue basic assistance to approximately 5,400 seniors and avoid a waiting list. The service suspensions are expected to save about $2 million, $625,000 of which is state funds.
Ironically, as the elderly service suspensions take effect, the state is expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal-state program that provides low-cost health coverage to uninsured children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
Kansas lawmakers authorized the expansion in 2008, subject to additional federal funding becoming available — which occurred last year when Congress and President Barack Obama expanded SCHIP. Then the Kansas Legislature approved $1.2 million to cover the state’s share of the expansion.
School payment delayed again
Meanwhile, the state announced it would delay January’s payment of $200 million to public schools; the third straight month of delays.
State Budget Director Duane Goossen said the action is necessary so the state can pay its employees and other bills. Goossen said he hoped to make half the school payment by the end of the week, and the rest possibly by the end of the month.
State education officials estimated that nearly 100 of the state’s 295 school districts will be forced to handle cash-flow problems by dipping into accounts meant for other uses, a technical violation of the law.
The Lawrence school district, however, can handle the cash-flow problems, said Frank Harwood, chief operations officer for the Lawrence school district.
He said Douglas County provides property tax dollars before the January deadline and the district has built up a contingency fund in anticipation of state budget problems.
Rainy Day Fund proposed
In another development, Kansas voters could decide in November if state government should set aside money for a “Rainy Day Fund.”
The proposal was unveiled Tuesday by state Sens. John Vratil, R-Leawood, and Laura Kelly, D-Topeka. Parkinson also signed on board.
Vratil and Kelly argued that such a fund could help the state weather revenue decreases.
The proposal calls for the Legislature to set aside 1 percent of tax revenues any year that those revenues increase by 3 percent or more from the previous year.
Legislators would be unable to draw down on the fund unless state general fund revenues dropped below the previous year’s total. If that happened, a majority decision by the Legislature and governor could appropriate those funds. Should the “Rainy Day Fund” reach 7.5 percent of the total state general revenue fund budget, the set-asides could be suspended.
The proposal would amend the state constitution, which means it will require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to get on the November ballot for a decision by voters.