Topeka Several legislators on Thursday criticized state welfare agency officials for conditions put into a contract aimed at helping victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence last week said it was withdrawing from the contract proposal with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services because the requirements that SRS was putting on the contract would jeopardize the safety of victims.
On Thursday, several legislators during a Senate committee meeting grilled SRS officials about those conditions.
One of those would require that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have jobs after 18 months of assistance.
Kathe Decker, director of economic and employment support at SRS, said it was important to help the victim become self-sufficient. Decker said she knew of a woman receiving assistance who bragged about still receiving services and not having to work while also being on a roller derby team.
“She told us she didn’t have to do anything because she was a victim,” Decker said.
That brought a sharp response from Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka. Schmidt said it was inappropriate for Decker to tell such a story because she had no first-hand knowledge of what the woman said.
Joyce Grover, director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said putting job requirements and time limits on services are problematic because the needs of victims are complex and change based on the danger of their situation.
Schmidt agreed, saying, “Sometimes victims have issues for years with their batterers.”
Grover said another requirement would be for the victim to undergo an evaluation, such as a psychological evaluation. She said that is unfair because sometimes these evaluations are used against them in court proceedings, such as child custody hearings.
Another requirement, dealt with encouraging the maintenance of two-parent families. Several legislators questioned how that would work when the person is trying to escape a dangerous relationship.
“What would you do? Set up some sort of dating service,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.
“We are encouraging the fact that two-parent families are better for children,” Decker said, but added that she, as a former victim of domestic violence, understood that a victim needs to be separated from their abuser.
Schmidt and Kelly also were critical of SRS’ communications director Angela De Rocha for comments she made in response to the coalition parting ways with SRS. De Rocha said the coalition had not provided basic information about the program. “There has been no accountability at all,” De Rocha said. “And this is their push-back.”
Schmidt asked about those remarks, and De Rocha said it was difficult for SRS to get information back from the coalition.
Kelly said, “That would be the pot calling the kettle black.” Kelly said she has often had trouble getting information from SRS.
SRS said the program would have about $2 million in federal funds and the agency would try to reach agreements with local domestic violence organizations.