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Brownback Isn't Suffering, Everyday Kansans Are

By Amber Versola
Advocacy | July 13, 2011

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Earlier this week, over 600 Lawrence residents convened in a local church to voice their concerns about the pending closure of the local Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) office.

A sense of anger and anxiety filled the room as people wondered what would happen to their families, students, clients, or neighbors. All of the frustration and rage that resonated in the overflowing sanctuary seemed to stem from a community's deep compassion for its citizens.

Those in attendance claimed that among individuals directly affected by the closure of the SRS offices are employees who cannot afford to relocate, children, the disabled, law enforcement, battered women, the impoverished, and the elderly.

One woman in Lawrence said that she read comments from Brownback-appointed SRS Secretary, Robert Siedlecki. He had compared the difficult decision to close 9 SRS offices to deciding which child a family should sacrifice.

That woman, Kathleen McGee, faulted the Brownback-administration's analogy ...

"This is America. And this is Kansas. We don't sacrifice our children here. We help them," she said.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening - and it's not just occurring in Lawrence. Mr. Siedlecki and Governor Brownback are choosing to sacrifice the well being of children in Lawrence, Coffeyville, Fort Scott, Garnett, Lyndon, Marysville, Pratt, Wellington, and McPherson.

Children won't be the only ones hurt from the closures, either.

Law enforcement officers will feel the burden as offenders lose convenient access to rehabilitation programs. Mentally ill people could lose contact with their case workers.The people who depend on SRS's services will need to access the Internet to fill out complicated forms for assistance, or will be required to travel to neighboring counties to apply for services like Medicaid - which does not have an accessible online application.

The obstacles that individuals may face are potentially endless. Some offices have limited times that workers can see clients, several people have stated they often can't reach their worker by phone, and clients may not have transportation to a remaining office. The relationships developed between the workers in these local offices and their communities will be severed because of larger caseloads and a greater physical distance.

There is obviously a steep human cost to this political maneuver. It is a cost that can't be measured in money, yet is still justified with dollars. It wouldn't be inaccurate if Governor Brownback and SRS Secretary Siedlecki labeled this as their million dollar decision. It is true that closing the 9 offices literally shaves nearly one million dollars from the SRS budget. They tout this is an example of their ability to rein in costs wherever possible by making difficult, but necessary decisions.

The problem with that idea is that most of the proposed cuts aren't necessary.

I don't believe it is a coincidence that there are new faces in several key, high salaried SRS positions since Siedlecki's appointment to the agency. Nor do I understand the necessity behind a recent $13,000 closed door meeting to develop a faith based marriage initiative.

The publicized suggestions from that gathering, which was held at SRS offices and the Governor's mansion, included the elimination of no fault divorce, penalizing spouses for adultery, and redirecting $1 million dollars from TANF (a federal program for impoverished families) to fund the discussed program.

In addition to these questionable (at best) ideas, the legislature had a $50 million dollar surplus in the same budget that contained slashes to funding for SRS, education, the arts, and other social services. Money was available, but it was either misdirected or simply not spent where it was obviously needed.

It would be absurd to think that this decision was based solely on economics, though.

Closing these offices was partly a political maneuver - one which amounts to an attack on vital services for vulnerable Kansans. Lawrence residents are reasonably alarmed by this attack. I am also worried about the future of the Lawrence community. However, I am equally concerned for the people of Coffeyville, Fort Scott, Garnett, Lyndon, Marysville, Pratt, Wellington, and McPherson.

The time has come for the people in these towns to stand up to our Governor, and for the rest of the state to stand in solidarity with them. Email your legislators, call Governor Brownback, and march to Topeka.

Make them hear our voices. Hold them accountable for their actions.

Those who are in power cannot be allowed to relentlessly bully those who do not have the resources to defend themselves.


Amber, thank you for publicizing this.

The people who depend on SRS for outreach services (the disabled, the mentally ill, abused and neglected children, etc.) are the very ones least able to travel long distances. Many cannot drive and if they do have drivers licenses, many do not own cars nor can they afford the gasoline. Enduring their hardships (abuse, neglect, handicaps, etc.) is difficult enough without our state government suddenly playing "disappearing acts" with the neighborhood and hometown offices these individuals depend upon for guidance, health care, counseling, education, or other life-saving assistance.

In other words, yes, our least fortunate neighbors are indeed being sacrificed. What seems like a mere inconvenience (the closing of a convenient office) is far more life threatening to the people served by SRS. Many of these clients may be literally unable to remain alive without ready access to some of these services.

And this is the Brownback that wants us to believe that he is "pro life"? How can anyone claim to be in favor of "life" when those with the quietest voices (the elderly, the sick, etc.) among us are the very ones that he seems content to silence and allow to suffer.

Why reduce the number of offices? By requiring "the least of these" to make Herculean efforts just to reach the remaining locations, it appears that the Brownback administration is hoping to reduce the clients actual usage of services.

The logic seems to go something like this - If our state government makes it hard for the people in need of healthcare (or some other lifesaving service) to find where the healthcare is provided, perhaps they will not use the healthcare (or other needed service). Throw a roadblock in their way and maybe they'll no longer come to the office for help.

The bottom line - if SRS clients get confused, are unable to reach the offices, or worse, actually die, then Brownback and his bean counters save money that they can then turn around and spend on their own pet projects.

That sort of cynical callousness causes undeniable harm to the innocent. It hurts those those among us most deserving of our compassion.

It is an outrage.

I agree, Pamela Jean. Amber, thanks for writing this. It almost goes without saying, but I guess it has to be said.

Thanks Pam and Diane. I am disheartened because the "mainstream" press in most of these communities doesnt seem to be showing people the harm that will result from the closure of these offices. The LJ World released a great PDF file showing how many people are served by each office. Last month, the McPherson office served over 2200 cases and Lawrence served over 10000 (that's right - over two thousand and over 10 thousand in ONE MONTH)!

This is an extremely important article, Amber. But let's be direct about what is "political" in this decision. The Kansans affected by this cruelty are not politically useful to Brownback in the way that a fetus is politically useful to him. That's the real bottom line in his budget. He is a first ballot shoo-in for the GOP hypocrisy hall of fame.

Hi, Pam--Alice Powell would like to write for both blogs. She needs help getting set up. If you message me through Facebook, I'll send you her e-mail. I've known her for a quite a while and I think she would be a great addition to the blogs. Thanks.


This is ridiculous.

Look, I'm into cutting government waste as much as anyone but closing this office is crazy.

Now granted there are ways to cut waste. For example with commercial real estate at its low point its a great time re-negotiate leases or move to cheaper locations. And offices should be either closed or moved if the population in a given area doesnt justify the cost.

However Lawrence isnt that place. It's a big town with a surprisngly large underclass. That office serves a need. The people in Lawrence pay taxes. They deserve this safety net.

Brad, Lawrence is a college town and college towns tend to be left and liberal. Brownback most likely won't lose votes he wasn't going to get anyway. He will solidify his conservative base by cutting programs that the majority of conservatives don't benefit from.

The Republican/TeaParty agenda seems to be cutting or eliminating programs that benefit the bottom economic tier of people and rewarding the top economic tier with tax cuts and business subsidies.

Ken, you are right about the economic priorities reflected in the budget decisions. But let's not forget what else has happened. New restrictions on a woman's right to make choices about her own body are passing in GOP legislatures across the country.

Ken, the role of a politician is to serve the people of their district, even those that didn't vote for them. I'm not impressed by Brownback's actions.

Brad, we're on the same page here! I've never been very impressed with Brownback.

"march to Topeka... Make them hear our voices!" Sounds great and I completely agree, we need to organize a massive protest against Brownback and all of the crazies in our legislature. One massive protest against everything that Brownback has down to our state, and our country. Let's fight back!

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