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Bipartisan duo in Kansas House committee push for increased funding for senior services, mental health

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Luke Ranker

Two lawmakers across party lines spearheaded a passionate push for mental health and senior services Monday, urging their colleagues to help vulnerable Kansans.

After a protracted debate, the House budget committee agreed to the $35 million increase in funding for mental health, senior care and related programs.

Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, and Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, fought for the two-year package, which provides $18.5 million in 2018 and $17.5 million in 2019, eventually overcoming resistance from peers who leaned toward considering the matter later in the session.

The package breaks down into four parts:

$1.5 million each year for safety net clinics, which provide medical, dental, and behavioral health services in underserved areas.

$14.7 million for community mental health clinics in 2018 and $13.7 million in 2019.

$1.5 million for programs under the senior care act.

$800,000 to allow the elimination of a cost recovery fee for child support.

Ballard described these budget changes as “crucial to people being able to live in their homes or have some quality of life.”

“We’re talking about people’s lives here,” she said.

When it first appeared the committee would vote the items down, Landwehr told them she was “shocked,” as they had approved around $330 million in pension funding late last week.

Yet we’re worried about $35 million?” she said. “You have got to be kidding me. I’m just flabbergasted.”

Landwehr said the voices of those who stand to benefit from the approximately $35 million may be less vocal than those lobbying for pension and school funding, but shouldn’t be overlooked.

Some members of the committee argued the panel should be cautious in inserting items into the 2018 and 2019 budgets until more pieces of the fiscal puzzle are clear. A few of those pieces include whether Medicaid expansion will pass, how much money the state will need to pay for K-12 education next year, and what updated state revenue estimates next month will indicate.

“These things add up,” said Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican who chairs the committee, suggested part of the problem was that the panel had voted last week to insert into the funding bill about $330 million in state contributions for the KPERS retirement system, hamstringing their ability to consider other items.

Waymaster described that decision as a “noose around our neck.”

“Now we can’t help the most vulnerable,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, motioned to rollback most of the $330 million KPERS injection. The panel agreed, prompting frustration from advocates of including the funds.

Henry Helgerson, D-Eastborough, called the state’s more than $8 billion in unfunded pension liability a “time bomb that we’re not dealing with.”

Meanwhile Helgerson sought to earmark an extra $300 million for K-12 education in 2018 and $450 million in 2019, saying it could be necessary to meet the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found schools inadequately funded. He withdrew the motion after meeting resistance.

“Is it the representative’s contention that we might forget school funding,” asked Rep. Bill Sutton, R-Gardner.

“Only in the same way that we forget KPERS,” Helgerson retorted.

Republished from The Topeka Capital-Journal

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