Committee quizzes SRS about funding for people with disabilities, faith-based initiatives

? Legislators and advocates on Tuesday voiced concerns over how the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services was handling a $6.6 million funding increase to provide services for those with disabilities.

For one thing, they said, SRS has failed to start spending the money yet, even though it was allocated for the fiscal year that started July 1, and for another, SRS determined the funds would be used only to get people off of waiting lists for services while bypassing those who may receive some services but are in need of more.

Members of the House-Senate Committee on Home and Community Based Services spent several hours quizzing SRS officials over this and several other issues, including a new faith-based initiative.

The dispute over the waiting list for those with developmental disabilities centered on new funding approved by the Legislature to provide services, such as bathing, dressing and mobility, which are designed to help people remain in their homes and communities instead of nursing homes.

There are currently nearly 2,500 on one SRS waiting list for these services. SRS Deputy Secretary Pedro Moreno said the $6.6 million would help 285 people, who are not receiving services.

But several legislators and advocates said the money was also aimed at those who are receiving some services, but not enough. There are 1,100 people in this “under-served” category.

Moreno, however, said, that wasn’t the Legislature’s intent when it approved the funding. Several members of the committee, however, said that was indeed the Legislature’s intent. State Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, said, “SRS, they have now eliminated 1,100 people from the waiting list.”

Committee members also had numerous questions about SRS’ new faith-based emphasis that has been touted by Gov. Sam Brownback and SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr.

Moreno said contracts between SRS and community groups will require that the groups consider faith-based groups when seeking services.

Anna Pilato, who is deputy SRS secretary for strategic development and faith-based and community initiatives, said there were no “stand-alone initiatives.”

Pilato, whose position is newly created and is paid $97,500 per year, said she was building a database of faith-based groups and would try to help those groups partner with SRS and enhance services.

Several committee members noted there were other groups and positions in state government already doing that, such as a part of the attorney general’s office that deals with human trafficking.

Concerning general budget problems, state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said she hoped SRS would be upfront with the Legislature in the 2012 session about its funding needs. The agency has been hit hard by budget cuts over the past several years, Kelly said.

But she said during the last legislative session, SRS “enthusiastically” embraced budget cuts.

Moreno said all leaders within SRS can request necessary funding, but, he added, “We understand the state is in a difficult situation.”