The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is soliciting applications for three grants it says are meant to strengthen services for people who have a mental illness, abuse drugs or alcohol, gamble irresponsibly or contemplate suicide.
The criteria for awarding the grants — called “requests for proposals” or RFPs — were posted last week on the Department of Administration’s website. Applications are due April 30.
KDADS officials in February announced the agency’s intent to alter the criteria for awarding the grants in an effort to break down what it viewed as “compartmentalization” that now separates some of its grantees.
The current grants are set to expire on June 30 with the new grants taking effect on July 1.
”We know that behavioral health difficulties do not occur in a vacuum. They interact,” KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett said in a prepared statement last month. “Half of the individuals who enter our state hospitals for mental health treatment also have substance use difficulties. Those who struggle with problem gambling have higher rates of suicide than the rest of the population. To be successful, our approach needs to be more fully integrated.”
As proposed, the three grants are meant to:
- Launch “a statewide behavioral health coalition” for disseminating information, promoting awareness, combating stigma and supporting individuals and families in crisis.
- Develop community-based initiatives aimed at blending mental health services, substance abuse treatment and suicide prevention.
- Develop a system for gathering, interpreting and storing data needed to measure performance outcomes and risk factors.
KDADS officials have said they expect to announce recipients of the new grants in late May or early June.
“We will be applying for at least one or more of the grants,” said Rick Cagan, executive director with the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “That’s about all I can say, because at this point there’s a lot of confusion. I think we fit in what it is that KDADS is wanting to do; I’m just not sure how. The RFPs aren’t very specific.”
Previously, Cagan raised concerns that the reconfigured grants mean the state would drop its long-standing support for groups that advocate for people with mental health and developmental disabilities. If NAMI’s $150,000 grant were not renewed, Cagan said, its three-person office in Topeka likely would be forced to close.
Five programs, including NAMI, have been told their current grants will not be renewed. The other programs and their missions:
- Keys for Networking, advocates for families with children with serious emotional disorders.
- Kansas Family Partnership, administers several initiatives aimed at reducing drug and alcohol use among children, teens and families.
- Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas (SACK), provides training programs designed to help people with developmental disabilities advocate for themselves.
- Families Together, provides training and support for parents of children with physical and developmental disabilities.
Mary Ellen Conlee, a Wichita lobbyist who’s also president of the Keys for Networking governing board, said the RFPs do not appear to be as course-altering as Cagan and others had predicted.
“We believe that at least one of the grants provides a real opportunity for Keys (for Networking) to continue the work they do with families that are raising children with mental illnesses,” Conlee said. “We will be responding to the RFPs.”
But Connie Zienkewicz, executive director for Families Together, said it’s not yet clear how the reconfigured grants will affect her program.
“Going into this, all of us, I think, were under the impression that the RFPs that KDADS was considering would be for people with disabilities that may or may not include a mental illness or substance abuse,” Zienkewicz said. “But now that the RFPs are out, the focus really seems to be on mental illness and substance abuse, because we’re not in there and neither is SACK.”
Zienkewicz said she’s not been able to determine if KDADS plans to issue RFPs for grants geared toward advocacy programs for people with developmental disabilities.
Angela de Rocha, a KDADS spokesperson, said in an email to KHI News Service that Families Together and SACK will have “other funding opportunities,” adding that “all providers” are encouraged to “look at the RFP and grant opportunities currently posted on our website and on the DoA website.” She declined further comment.
Earlier this year, the Senate Ways and Means Committee agreed to set aside $97,000 for SACK in case its grant was not renewed. It also added a proviso that protects the other programs’ budgets for 30 days after the new contracts are awarded.
The committee’s so-called mega budget bill later passed the Senate and, last week, was adopted by a Senate-House conference committee. Both $97,000 set-aside for SACK and the 30-day proviso remain intact. The Senate-passed budget bill is expected to reach the House floor after the Legislature reconvenes on April 29.
“We’re happy that there’s a line in the bill that says SACK will be funded,” said Barb Bishop, who runs ARC of Douglas County, an advocacy and case management program for people with developmental disabilities. She also administers the SACK grant. “But we’d also like to see the other program funded as well. They all provide services that are very valuable.”
Attempts to reach Kansas Family Partnership Executive Director Michelle Voth for comment were unsuccessful.