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Originally published Jan. 26, 2011 at 5:26 p.m., updated Jan. 27, 2011 at 5:05 a.m.
TOPEKA The state’s top welfare official said he’s looking for ways to salvage state-funded support for Early Head Start and for mental health services.
“We’re working to see what we can do about the (proposed) cuts,” Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki said Wednesday, addressing a meeting of the Mental Health Coalition of Kansas. “If you can show me where to get the funds to plug the holes (in the budget), I’ll be happy to work with you.”
Gov. Sam Brownback in his fiscal 2012 budget plan has proposed eliminating a state-funded, $10.2 million grant program that community mental health centers use to cover the costs of caring for the uninsured.
He also proposed eliminating a $5 million program for families with mentally ill children.
“In the social services arena, I know of no other program that’s taken that much of a cut,“ said Mike Hammond, executive director with the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas. “That’s $15.2 million, and that’s just in the governor’s proposed budget. In the last two years, we’ve been cut $32 million.”
Brownback also has proposed eliminating the Early Head Start program’s $11.3 million budget.
Siedlecki did not defend eliminating the programs; instead, he noted that other departments’ budgets also had been cut in an effort to offset increases in Medicaid costs.
The governor, he said, “took $200 million from the highway department, a lot of that is going into Medicaid caseloads.”
Marriage and adoption
Siedlecki, who also met Wednesday with the House Appropriations Committee, said he’ll soon introduce initiatives aimed at promoting marriage, encouraging adoption and expanding the role of the state’s nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
“There are good people out there saying, ‘How do I get involved? What can I do?’” Siedlecki said. “I want to get people involved.”
Siedlecki, who formerly worked at the Florida Department of Health, said he wants to replicate a Florida adoption initiative, called “One Church, One Child,” that finds volunteer mentors for families willing to adopt children who are state wards.
In Kansas, he said, the number of children in foster care increased 5 percent last year.
The Governor’s Office, Siedlecki said, is preparing a similar initiative aimed at finding mentors for men and women being released from prison.
His department’s “Healthy Marriage Initiative,” he said, will be a major undertaking.
“I’ll be honest with you. I’m divorced,” Siedlecki during his meeting with the mental-health advocates. “So...the next time, I will take the premarital inventory, I’m going to be paired up with a healthily married couple, I’ll (attend) the marriage retreats because (divorce) was devastating."
“It’s not like I’m ‘holier than thou, I’m on the other side,’" he said. "I’ve seen the suffering. I have two daughters. It bothers me every day. I hope that someday I can talk to God and ask ‘Why?’”
Several advocates said they supported promoting healthy marriages, but they didn’t understand what that had to do with cuts to mental health services.
“Many of the (divorced) people we’re talking about here are going to turn to their community mental health centers for marriage counseling,” said Sue Lewis, chief executive at Mental Health America of the Heartland, a Kansas City, Kan.-based advocacy group. “But the centers, I’m afraid, won’t see them because the money they use to pay for the services won’t be there. The only money that’ll be there will be for people in crisis. Unfortunately, marriage counseling doesn’t meet that criterion.”
Lewis noted that neither private insurance nor Medicaid cover marriage counseling.
In response, Siedlecki said, "We are willing to work with you on this issue."
He offered to meet with the group once a month.
He also agreed to address the Mental Health Advocacy Day rally on March 3 in Topeka at Memorial Hall.