Local officials said Thursday they are continuing their efforts to get Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to reverse its decision to shut down the Lawrence office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Brownback has said he is open to options, but SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. has indicated the office, which deals with thousands of people each month, will be closed within three months.
Still, SRS indicates there may be some room to deal.
“Any alternate arrangement regarding real estate would have to meet the department’s budget-cutting criteria,” SRS spokeswoman Angela De Rocha said.
But she added, “There has been no change in the decision to close the SRS office in Lawrence.”
SRS says it must close nine offices to save $1 million in administrative costs. Shutting down the Lawrence office, by far the biggest on the hit list, would save $413,385, according to SRS. Of that amount, $331,875 would be in rent.
Some have asked whether another entity could pay the rent.
Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said if that discussion comes up, he would like to see a more in-depth study to determine if SRS’s estimate of savings “is a real number.”
Weinaug noted that in SRS’s estimate of savings, there are no costs figured in for a possible legal challenge to the state for breaking its lease for the SRS office.
SRS did put in its cost-savings estimate an additional $14,528 for SRS workers in travel expenses, but Weinaug wondered how accurate that figure was.
Plus, he said, the state’s estimate doesn’t take into account the extra costs to local agencies and governmental entities that losing the SRS office would entail.
Earlier this week, nearly 20 groups said they would see their costs go up if SRS shut its doors in Lawrence. Many said they would have increased travel costs in taking clients to Topeka or Kansas City to get services.
The prospect of vulnerable residents having to travel to another city has prompted many calls, according to Erika Dvorske, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Douglas County.
“This is a crisis,” Dvorske said. “There is a high anxiety level with people contacting us, just worried how they are going to access services,” she said.
Dvorske said she hopes Brownback and Siedlecki will reverse the decision, but she said United Way is also working on plans if the office is shut down.
“I’m supportive of those who are working to get the position reversed, but given the role the United Way plays, I’m more involved in trying to plan for ‘Plan B,’” she said.
She said that without a Lawrence office, “There is a very strong potential when the services are harder to access, it is likely that fewer people will access them.”