Topeka In the face of increasing opposition, Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday said he would be willing to consider options to his administration’s decision last week to close nine state welfare agency offices, including the one in Lawrence.
Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. announced last week that he intended to shut down the offices as a cost-cutting move. The Lawrence office, with 87 employees, was by far the largest one.
Brownback has defended the move as necessary to comply with a budget he signed into law that cut SRS by $42 million, including $1 million in administrative expenses.
He has said SRS clients — low-income families, people with disabilities and children — could travel for assistance to nearby cities, such as Topeka, Overland Park and Ottawa. Opponents of the closure say that isn’t reasonable.
But when asked Friday if the closure decisions could be appealed, he said, “We'll work with the SRS office and Secretary Siedlecki on that. But if people are willing to come up with alternate options so that we can save money that we need to save that was put forward in the budget and set by the Legislature, I'm sure willing to look at options and I know Secretary Siedlecki will too.”
The Brownback administration’s decision in Lawrence has caused a huge public outcry, especially from law enforcement and social service advocates.
The Douglas County Democratic Party has invited former SRS Secretary Robert Harder to speak to a meeting at 10 a.m. today at the Lawrence Public Library, and legislative leaders are hosting a public meeting on the issue at 7 p.m. Monday at Plymouth Congregational Church.
Statewide, communities where offices have been slated for closure are trying to get more information about the decision. Many legislators, Republicans and Democrats, have said they were caught off-guard when SRS made the announcement late Friday before the July 4th three-day weekend.
State Rep. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, was quoted in the Fort Scott Tribune as urging residents to contact the governor’s office to express their opinion about the planned closure of the Fort Scott SRS office. “I’m not sure (SRS did) ... it’s due diligence,” she said. Other offices being closed are in Coffeyville, Garnett, Lyndon, Marysville, McPherson, Pratt and Wellington.
One month prior to the announcement, Siedlecki toured the Lawrence office with local legislators. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said Siedlecki made no mention that the office would be closed. And Davis called it a “cowardly move by this administration” to make the announcement before a holiday weekend.