Kansas legislature adjourns amid coronavirus response
March 2020 · Advocacy, Coronavirus, Ministry News
It’s been a busy year/week.
The Kansas legislature adjourned Thursday after passing a base budget, killing the proposed Executive Reorganization Order to blend human services agencies, and passing critical bills to support coronavirus preparation and response. Legislators had been trying to complete essential business since concerns escalated late last week about the need for social distancing and preparing our state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislature may reconvene after April 27 for veto session but that will be subject to change.
A basic budget for the remainder of FY20 and FY21:
Legislators passed a base budget that, for child welfare, included the Governor’s recommendations for increases in human services and foster care caseloads, increased investment and staffing for Family First Prevention Services Act services, and provided for further steps for child welfare technology improvement. Legislators added $4 million for acute psychiatric hospital beds for juveniles in Hays. The budget includes funding increases for organizations that deal with the elderly and poor to provide for their safety during the COVID-19 crisis and provides the state budget director with $50 million he can divert to agencies that need it for coronavirus response.
Other items that had been under consideration for child welfare – such as $3 million for high risk youth, $5 million for PRTF services, and $3 million for mobile crisis response – were abandoned for now or carried over for the possibility of reconsideration at Omnibus. “Omnibus” is the term for when the legislature revises the budget according to updated state revenue and caseload information in April – this would normally occur during veto session.
The Kansas House voted against the Governor’s intended plan to combine DCF, KDADS, and KDOC- juvenile services on a vote of 82-35. It only takes one chamber to kill an ERO, so the proposed reorganization will not occur this year. Governor Kelly commented, “When the time is right, I will revisit these goals – but at this point, I am focusing on our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and keeping Kansas families, communities and businesses safe.”
Executive Action in Response to Coronavirus Pandemic:
As you know by now, Governor Kelly ordered Kansas schools to remain closed through the rest of this school year and placed many executive branch state employees on administrative leave for two weeks to stay home while the coronavirus situation is considered. DCF, KDADS, KDOC – juvenile services, and KDHE will maintain staff for essential services.
Emergency bills passed and signed:
In a flurry of activity between the legislative and executive branches, the following bills passed the legislature and have been signed by Governor Laura Kelly to support Kansans during the coronavirus pandemic:
- SB142, which allows the State Board of Education to certify that school districts that shorten the school year to control exposure of students and staff to coronavirus can receive their state funding even if the students don’t meet the full hourly attendance requirements of state law.
- SB102, which allows the chief justice of the Supreme Court to extend or suspend some legal deadlines during the coronavirus emergency to protect court workers and others from possible exposure to the disease.
- SB27, which expands the current 16-week limit on unemployment compensation to 26 weeks for most workers and speeds payment of those unemployment benefits, a response both to aircraft industry layoffs earlier this year and the laying off of workers due to the coronavirus.
Coronavirus and child welfare:
Those of you practicing child welfare in the field are aware of the massive changes that have taken place in just a few days as we have implemented and adapted to changed federal & state guidance and public health recommendations to keep children, parents, relatives, foster parents, child welfare staff, other service providers, and our communities safe and healthy.
Child welfare leaders have worked tirelessly to both ensure ongoing services to children and families and to lead on critical changes over the past few days:
- DCF maintains essential staff to receive reports in the Kansas Protection Report Center and assess assigned reports of child abuse and neglect. Referrals to prevention programs and foster care case management continue.
- Child welfare and mental health providers are transitioning to the use of video and phone technology services as quickly as possible for direct services where appropriate.
- Child welfare professional and foster parent trainings are being revamped from live trainings to online learning as quickly as possible.
- Foster parents and congregate care providers are adapting to school building closings, preparing to adapt to online education, and seeking innovation in childcare options.
- Courts are adapting CINC dockets to comply with the Supreme Court administrative order to implement emergency operations.
- Advocates are reviewing the federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Package and monitoring subsequent relief package bills to raise issues on the unique challenges COVID-19 pandemic creates for child welfare.
Public health measures implemented in response to the coronavirus will continue to have unique and significant impacts on children and families at risk of involvement in the child welfare system. School and childcare closures, the necessities of social distancing, and income insecurity will increase mental health and substance use risks for parents and safety risks for children. Communities will have to be vigilant about developing new and supportive ways to wrap around our most vulnerable families. In addition, kinship families, foster parents, and group care providers will be needing extra community care and concrete assistance to maintain placement stability for children and youth and to continue to support parent/child reintegration efforts.
I’ll be calling on you for your help.
Ad astra per aspera.
Rachel Marsh, JD, MSW is the Vice President of Advocacy and Legislative Affairs for Saint Francis Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (620) 200-0635 with questions or comments about child welfare public policy in Kansas.