- Policy & Research
- About KHI
July 17, 2012
TOPEKA Community-based programs that advocate for the physically disabled have renewed their state contracts despite their earlier objections to a provision they believed was intended to limit their contact with legislators and other policymakers.
Chris Owens, executive director of the Prairie Independent Living Center in Hutchinson, said she and other center officials met earlier this month with state officials and were assured the new contract language would allow them to advocate in their respective communities and that they would be barred only from lobbying for legislation or federal or state spending increases.
After the meeting, Bob Corkins, head of the legal division at the Kansas Department of Children and Families, issued a memo explaining the agency's intent.
Owens said 10 of the 11 centers for independent living in Kansas subsequently signed contracts for their base-funding grants.
“If we hadn’t signed the contract, we wouldn’t be able stay in business,” Owens said.
Topeka Independent Living Resource Center did not sign a contract because most of its services are federally funded. It does not rely on a base-funding grant from the state.
The 10 centers’ grants add up to about $3 million, a mix of state and federal funds.
Last month, several center directors told KHI News Service they would not sign contracts that included language meant to restrict their ability to meet with policymakers and elected officials.
The new language read: “No funds allowed under this agreement may be expended by the recipient of the grant to pay, directly or indirectly, any person for influencing or attempting to influence an officer or employee of any agency, a member, or employee of a member of the United States Congress or the Kansas Legislature.”
Historically, state and federal contracts have barred contractors from spending government money on lobbying for or against a specific bill or policy.
But the new language, center directors had argued, was so broad that they would not be able to able to call any public official’s attention to needs of the physically disabled.
The July 7 meeting with Corkins and Michael Donnelly of DCF, center officials said, made it clear what they can do with respect to advocacy.
“We were told that we can advocate on a local level, and if we’re asked to serve on (advisory) committees or asked to come to (legislative) meetings, we can do that,” said Shari Coatney of Southeast Kansas Independent Living in Parsons. “But we’re not allowed to use our grant money to lobby for, say, a bill or an increase in funding that would benefit centers for independent living.”
Coatney said the center directors agreed to sign the contracts because they thought they would be able to keep their grant monies separate from their lobbying activities.
“This is all about being able to draw a straight line between the funding source and the activity,” Coatney said. “It’s not saying we can’t lobby, it’s saying we can’t use state or federal funds to lobby.”
According to administration officials, the language in the contract also will be included in the Department of Administration’s Policy and Procedure Manual and will be part of other state agency contracts with service providers.
“As other contracts come up for renewal, rebidding or extension, the newest (wording) will be attached,” said Marilyn Jacobson, director of general services at the Department of Administration. “All this is meant to do is make state policies consistent with federal policies.”
Owens said she would figure out a way to continue meeting with legislators on issues important to the centers.
“We’ll just have to find other money to do it,” she said. “But there’s nothing that says I can’t meet with my legislator on my own time as a private citizen, or that I can’t use my vacation time to go to Topeka. A lot of people here would be ready to do that.”
KHI News Service file photo.
In May, state officials released an audit that among other things faulted the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas for using government funding to underwrite its lobbying efforts.
SILCK Executive Director Shannon Jones has often testified against state policies that allow lengthy waiting lists for services designed to help people with disabilities live in community settings rather than institutions. She also has led efforts to encourage people to file civil rights complaints about the waiting list with federal officials.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in April that it had turned over its investigation of the complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice, a move that many say increased the likelihood the state will be sued in federal court for allegedly being in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The audit, conducted by the Office of Audit and Consulting Services at what was then called the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, called for SILCK to pay back almost $520,000.
Jones has said her board of directors would appeal the audit findings.
On July 1, SRS’ duties were divided between the new Department of Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.