By Meg Wingerter, February 10, 2017
A Kansas House committee overseeing budgets for social services offered appreciation to programs serving the elderly and people with disabilities or mental illnesses.
Legislators may not be able to offer much more than that.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, ranking minority member on the House Social Services Budget Committee, suggested members approve $250,000 to fund services for seniors, such as bathing and assistance with housework. The funds wouldn’t begin to make up for $2.1 million in cuts to Senior Care Act services last year, she said, but would help Area Agencies on Aging chip away at their waiting lists.
“It would allow them a little flexibility,” the Lawrence Democrat said during the committee’s Thursday meeting. “I’m not saying that $250 (thousand) is the answer to it.”
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, said cuts to programs for seniors were “short-sighted,” because those who didn’t receive help staying in their homes would end up moving to nursing homes, which cost the state far more.
“We can almost say that on any of our budgets,” responded Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican and the committee’s chairwoman.
The lack-of-funding theme has come up repeatedly in the committee’s hearings.
Rep. Nancy Lusk, an Overland Park Democrat, suggested the committee endorse $2 million in funding that the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services requested to expand mental health crisis centers. One of the centers, in Wichita, estimated it saved the state at least $6 million by diverting patients from Osawatomie State Hospital, she said.
But the money for the crisis centers isn’t there. The state faces a $320 million deficit in the fiscal year ending July 1 and a projected deficit of $580 million in the following fiscal year.
On Monday the committee will consider whether to recommend additional funding for state hospital employee wages and community mental health centers. Gallagher expressed frustration at the need to choose among programs for Kansans who are elderly, disabled or have mental illnesses.
“Overall, KDADS has not been funded adequately to perform its core functions” she said. “It’s resulted in those three sectors of our vulnerable citizens being pitted against each other.”
Meg Wingerter is a reporter for KCUR’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach her on Twitter @MegWingerter. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.