Social services reorg: Opposition without opposition

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Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposal to bring together social services under one umbrella is running into turbulence again, and Democrats wonder why since there isn’t any outside opposition.

Earlier this week, the House Social Services Budget Committee recommended against combining the Department for Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services.

The committee recommended against the proposal despite hearing testimony from outside social service groups supporting the move and not hearing from any opponents.

Democrats are bewildered by opposition inside the statehouse to the consolidation, which was rejected by the Kansas Legislature last year.

They expressed frustration about the social service committee’s vote when the House Appropriations Committee met Wednesday. The appopriations committee also recommended against the reorganization.

Democrats said the reorganization was rushed through the Social Services Budget Committee, although the chairman, Will Carpenter, said he had 15 days to act under House rules or it would have been considered approved.

Democrats pointed out that nine social service agencies that work with either DCF or KDADS are supportive of the governor’s proposed reorganization plan.

“I’m trying to understand what the arguments are against doing this,” said Democratic state Rep. Henry Helgerson of Eastborough.

“All the testimony was in favor of it, yet there was a motion to do the opposite of what everybody testified about,” Helgerson said.

Helgerson quizzed Carpenter — a Republican representative from El Dorado — about what precisely prompted the decision to recommend against the governor’s reorganization plan.

Carpenter reiterated similar arguments that were made last year against the reorganization plan, saying there was no guarantee that combining two large agencies would lead to better services.

“I will never be convinced that by making an agency larger that they will be more responsive to the people that they serve,” Carpenter said.

Consolidation, the Kelly administration has said, gives Kansans a single point of access to social services that are now spread across different state agencies.

“I strongly believe that allowing families to access services more easily, more streamlined access, more ability to navigate those supports will also help us then to provide those supports and services earlier before a crisis takes place,” said Laura Howard, who now serves as the secretary for KDADS and DCF.

Howard told a Senate committee on Thursday that consolidating the agencies is about looking at families in their entirety, noting that many have multiple needs.

“Currently, these families navigate multiple agenicies and workers,” Howard told the Senate health committee.

“By creating more of a one-stop human services hub, the same family can receive service more efficiently and can more effectively receive linkages to others services and support that they might need,” she said.

Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr told the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that she saw a need for combining some programs, rather than bringing two agencies together.

“If we are wanting to move forward…about improving services and making things more accesssible, more things under one house, we need to look at how do we combine some of the different programs that we have between the agencies,” she said.

Landwehr said there are Medicaid services available through DCF and KDADS, something she said didn’t make sense.

Yet Democrats still questioned why the reorganization plan would be opposed by lawmakers when the social service agencies that interact with the state are supportive of the governor’s plan.

“I truly can’t get past that nine of these organizations that probably have clients who deal with this on a regular basis were all for this and there were no opponents,” said Democratic state Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore of Kansas City.

“I probably trust most of the people on this list that they would have pretty good input into how the system worked and how this could be improved,” Wolfe Moore said.

Sean Gatewood, co-administrator of the KanCare Advocates Network, said consolidating the two agencies would help coordinate Kansas social services programs.

“These are complex systems and people with complex needs, they deserve and need local help navigating them,” Gatewood said in written testimony.

“Without local assistance many Kansans, particularly rural Kansans will continue to struggle to be connected with the services this Legislature has made available to them.”

Carpenter said he didn’t think the case had been made that the consolidation is needed.

“Nobody’s ever come to us and said, ‘Here are the barriers that we have,'” he said. “No one’s ever said that.”

He said Howard is currently the secretary of DCF and KDADS and questioned why she can’t make the changes without the reorganization.

“I have not been shown anything that she can’t do because she’s the secretary of both agencies to make this happen.”