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Changing SRS

Published on -7/8/2011, 10:15 AM

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Since 1973, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has been tasked with the mission of protecting the state's children and promoting adult self-sufficiency. Through its oversight of social services and state institutions, SRS serves more than half a million Kansans.

We're not sure if the agency's mission itself is changing under Secretary Rob Siedlecki, but the methods of carrying out that mission certainly are. Since being appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback, Siedlecki has been reinventing the safety net SRS is supposed to provide. The pair's shared commitment to a "culture of life" and the utility of faith-based initiatives might render that safety net unrecognizable, however.

With the start of the new fiscal year and the requirement to find more than $40 million in savings, SRS' transformation is in full swing. So far, SRS has announced it would:

* Reduce the number of county social services offices from 42 to 33.

* Consolidate the six administrative regions to four.

* Terminate Larned State Hospital Superintendent Robert Connell and Osawatomie State Hospital Superintendent Greg Valentine.

* Lay off or accept the retirements of several other agency officials.

* Cut all contracts and grants by 3 percent.

* Eliminate all funding for the Kansas Consumer Advisory Council for Adult Mental Health.

* Eliminate approximately $1 million for several other grants and contracts for mental health services.

* Reduce Medicaid reimbursements by 2.5 percent for social services and mental health treatments (currently on hold).

* Consider the possibility of using voucher programs for services.

* Explore the possibility of either privatizing or closing the Kansas Neurological Institute, a state hospital for the severely developmentally disabled.

* Create a division for promoting faith-based and community initiatives.

* Reduce the number of beds at Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City.

* Stop accepting referrals to any state hospital already overcrowded.

"We don't know where SRS is taking us," said Amy Campbell, executive director of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.

We believe we have an inkling. It appears SRS is going to effect significant savings at the state level, even though the need for services throughout the state is increasing. The costs associated with providing mental health and social services cut by the state will be transferred to the local level.

If cities and counties decide to pick up the tab, expect steady increases in property taxes. If cities and counties don't, then law enforcement agencies will be forced to use more of their resources. Which will lead to steady increases in property taxes.

In short, anything SRS or the governor will claim they saved taxpayers simply won't be true. The money still will be coming out of taxpayer pockets. And likely it will be even more than before this shell game began.

To be fair, Gov. Brownback and Secretary Siedlecki are not just about cutting programs and services. Siedlecki said the department was developing a "fatherhood initiative" to help reduce childhood poverty.

And as then Sen. Brownback wrote in his book "From Power to Purpose, a Remarkable Journey of Faith and Compassion" in 2007, marriage is the best solution to the problems of overall poverty. This year, SRS is preparing to launch a Kansas Healthy Marriage Initiative.

To help develop the initiative, state taxpayers paid $13,000 to bring a group of conservative Christians from around the country to the Kansas Family Strengthening Summit last month.

The summit was closed to the general public. But the initiative is believed to include gathering baseline statistics, a training program for SRS workers, surveying the public and developing a PR campaign. Nobody has said how much the initiative would cost or how it would be funded.

And we haven't yet heard about the adoption initiative, although Brownback already might have revealed his plan in that arena when he attempted to revoke licenses for the clinics that provide abortion services.

Things are going from bad to worse in Topeka as far as we're concerned. That concern is shared by many in mental health, social agencies and law enforcement.

Strengthening religious beliefs is the job of the church -- not the state. They are separated for a reason.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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