Governor renews effort to consolidate Kansas social welfare programs into one agency

The governor’s 2020 effort failed after the Kansas House voted against the order

By: - January 11, 2021 10:00 am

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday a planned order to consolidate the Department for Children and Families and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services into a new agency. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly announced plans Monday to renew an effort toward forming a single agency that would absorb social welfare programs from two state agencies.

The governor said she plans to file a reorganization order creating the Kansas Department of Human Services. The new agency would include current services at the Department for Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services. Those services include oversight of the state’s beleaguered foster care system and four state hospitals.

The governor said this proposed consolidation reaffirms her commitment to vulnerable Kansans.

“Creating the Department of Human Services ensures Kansas families and individuals have easier access to critical services and improves engagement between our service centers, clients, and local stakeholders by creating a single point of entry for those accessing a variety needs,” Kelly said. 

In January 2020, the governor proposed a similar reorganization — but the effort died when the House voted 82-35, mostly along party lines, against the proposition. Kelly hopes the renewed effort will gain the necessary support in the 2021 legislative session, which starts Monday.

Kelly said she would submit the executive order for reorganization by Jan. 21. Legislators will have 60 days to review the proposal.

The Democratic governor’s proposed consolidation would reverse an initiative by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to split a single agency into DCF and KDADS. Under Kelly’s administration, Laura Howard already serves as secretary of both DCF and KDADS.

“This is not going to be business as usual,” Howard said. “This new combined agency provides us the opportunity to modernize systems for youth, families and the elderly. KDHS means less bureaucracy standing between clients and the services they need.”

Advocating last year for the order, Howard said the reorganization would help streamline services for children in the state’s child welfare system. In rejecting the order, House Republicans said they were not able to see how the new agency would improve the situation.

If neither the House nor Senate were to act this time around, the reorganization would take effect July 1.

“I look forward to collaborating with communities across the state to guarantee individuals have seamless access to the supports and services they need to achieve their goals and to make sure we are walking alongside families as they address their challenges head-on,” Howard said.

Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican and chairwoman of the House Children and Seniors committee, voted against the order in 2020 but said she was keeping an open mind to the idea until she has heard what has changed. She said the primary issue last year was the inclusion of the juvenile services division of the Department of Corrections. 

“That was a piece that we talked about taking out,” Concannon said. “With that pulled out, I might like it a little bit better. 

Kelly’s administration confirmed juvenile justice would not be included in the refreshed KDHS.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, said he had yet to read the proposed order but that the effort last year was a logical one.

“The intent seemed to be a good idea because it mirrored how the feds are set up,” Ousley said. “As federal regulations come down, it makes sense to have the state organized in a similar fashion, if thats way [the order] is.“

This story has been updated with confirmation from the governor’s office that the juvenile services division of the Department of Corrections would not be included in the reorganization order

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.