Gov. Sam Brownback today appointed former legislator Phyllis Gilmore to be secretary of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, succeeding Rob Siedlecki, who resigned in December after just a year at the post.
Gilmore, who will turn 67 on Saturday, has been executive director of the Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board for the past 11 years. The board is responsible for licensing and disciplining mental health providers in Kansas.
"I think she'll do an outstanding job in a tough field. This is a difficult thing and this is a difficult area, so it's good to have seasoned experience on board," Brownback said at a Statehouse news conference.
Gilmore said she shared Brownback's passion and vision for SRS, which is set to be renamed the Department for Children and Families under the executive reorganization order also announced today.
"The governor's proposal that we have a department where we can focus and have a strong emphasis on furthering the issues of fathering, relationships with children, self-sufficiency, job employment — we want to go forward with all gusto that we can muster and bring forth great things for these families that are in true need," Gilmore said.
Gilmore’s reference to the fatherhood initiative suggests that her vision for the agency may be similar to that of Siedlecki, who championed it despite opposition from some legislators.
Gilmore, a Republican, represented Olathe in the Kansas House from 1994 to 2000. While there, she pushed for passage of a bill backed by what was then a smaller contingent of conservative Republicans that would have given Kansans the option of entering "covenant marriages." Couples who chose that option would have been required to sign a commitment to stay married and work through any problems that developed.
“I think we need to try to recapture the real meaning of marriage,” Gilmore said to the Topeka Capital-Journal in 1998. “It offers people a choice for a marriage that they can’t just opt out of.”
No change in food stamp policy
Gilmore said she didn’t intend to revisit a controversial change made recently in eligibility rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that distributes food stamp benefits. The change has made it harder for families headed by illegal immigrants to qualify for assistance and has drawn criticism from some child advocacy groups and legislators because it has resulted in more than 1,000 children being dropped from the program.
“We’ll see where it (the criticism) leads, but at this point it stands,” Gilmore said of the policy.
Brownback also reiterated that he supported the change, saying it has made the eligibility determination process fairer by adjusting the way incomes are calculated for families headed by non-citizen parents.
“It’s a matter of equity,” Brownback said. “The change that was put forward is that you consider all … adult income coming into that household, whether it comes from somebody that’s documented or undocumented.”<a name="continued"></a>
The eligibility change was one of many instituted by the embattled former secretary Siedlecki. In his short tenure at SRS, he became something of an administration lightning rod, implementing budget cuts that had not been explicitly approved or endorsed by the Legislature. SRS Deputy Secretary Pedro Moreno — who, like Siedlecki, came to Kansas from Florida 11 months ago — resigned last week.
Brownback also released the long-awaited executive reorganization order (PDF) that calls for significant changes in the state agencies that oversee Medicaid.
If accepted by the Legislature, the ERO would assign administration of Medicaid programs for the elderly and the physically and mentally disabled to the newly named Department for Aging and Disability Services. Previously those programs were largely administered by SRS.
The Department of Health and Environment would oversee Medicaid medical programs and would continue to administer Medicaid financing.
KDHE Secretary Dr. Robert Moser said the ERO is "primarily aimed at increasing administrative efficiency."
"We'll be much more efficient with just two agencies," he said.
Brownback said the order will be submitted to the Legislature Monday. If neither chamber votes to reject it within 60 days, it will go into effect July 1.
Brownback's plan is to contract all services under Medicaid to three private managed care companies.
Leaders of both parties in the Senate have expressed concerns with the administration's Medicaid overhaul plan.
During a press briefing this morning, Senate President Steve Morris said legislators have had no input on the process.
"We're concerned," said Morris, R-Hugoton. "If it goes forward, we'd certainly like for it to work and be successful."
"We'll probably try to authorize a joint House-Senate oversight committee to monitor this because we're not in session the majority of the year and we need some kind of mechanism for us to get feedback on what's going on."
Morris said he did not necessarily have in mind the proposal by Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, to revamp the Joint Health Policy Oversight Committee so that is has a new focus on monitoring the performance of the state’s Medicaid managed care companies. Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, has also introduced a bill calling for Medicaid oversight.
"We need some kind of an oversight committee. I don't know what form that will be in," Morris said.
Today, Moser and Department on Aging Secretary Shawn Sullivan said they would welcome such oversight.