Hundreds rally against closing SRS office

Ray Cho, of Lawrence, works at a local engineering firm, somewhat removed from the social services community.

But he said he values the services provided by the Lawrence branch of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, and he joined hundreds Saturday morning to protest the local office’s announced closure.

“I see the need,” said Cho, holding a sign that read, “10,211 use the Lawrence SRS office.”

Since the recent announcement by Gov. Sam Brownback and SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. that the Lawrence office would be closing as a cost-saving measure, many in Lawrence have expressed shock and disbelief at the decision. More than 600 people attended a town hall meeting Monday to discuss the closure, and community members have started a Twitter and Facebook campaign to “Save Our SRS.”

According to state officials, closing the Lawrence SRS would save $413,000. In the future, those currently receiving SRS services in Lawrence would need to travel to other offices, such as SRS facilities in Topeka, Ottawa or Overland Park.

Advocates and consumers of SRS services — which include food stamps, general assistance and vocational rehabilitation — expressed determination at the rally that they would fight the closure.

“We will not sit back,” said Peter Luckey, pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church. “We will not stop.”

Despite the recent controversy about the closure, Siedlecki has not backed off of the decision, said rally organizer Abbie Hodgson.

“Secretary Siedlecki is holding strong,” she said.

Numerous local politicians, including State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City; State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence; and Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, spoke at the rally in support of keeping the Lawrence SRS office open. The speakers highlighted the hardships many in Lawrence will face if the local branch shuts down. A date has not been set for a possible closure, but a general timeline of several months has been given by state officials.

Still, organizers remained optimistic that the office will be saved.

“I’m hopeful,” said organizer Jacob Beaumont, who along with volunteers scoured South Park with petitions. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe we could save the office.”