There are changes in the works for how Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services will fund the state’s 20-some community domestic violence centers. The change was not greeted well in all corners.
SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore announced Thursday the agency will offer $2 million in grants directly to the centers to fund the services they provide to clients of SRS’ Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program who have been victims of domestic violence.
This is in lieu of the SRS’s contract with the Kansas Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Violence which currently holds a contract with the state to provide the services. The coalition is opting to allow its contract to expire without seeking to renew it.
The community programs, such as the Family Crisis Center based out of Great Bend, provide support and a safe haven for victims of sexual and domestic violence, focusing primarily on women and children. They deliver direct services, such as counseling, victim advocacy and prevention and public awareness campaigns.
The KCSDV decided to withdraw its bid to oversee case management for the local providers this week. SRS’s current $1.7 million contract with KCSDV expires June 30.
“We are not surprised that KCSDV is backing away from providing services for the approximately 450 TANF clients in the domestic violence program,” the secretary said. “KCSDV had been struggling to meet our new accountability standards for several months.
“We tried to work with them, but in the end the bid that KCSDV submitted did not meet even the minimum performance standards set in the request for bid, and they were the only bidder,” Gilmore said. “As a result of their withdrawal, we have decided to take the program in house, manage it ourselves and provide direct funding to the community programs,” she said.
“We are working to get this funding in place to provide to local programs so these services will continue to be supplied without disruption,” the secretary said. “We are also reaching out to the tribal groups that, in the past, have not been included in the program.”
The partnership was to provide services to domestic violence and sexual assault victims receiving TANF. However, KCSDV Executive Director Joyce Grover said at a news conference in Newton Friday morning additional and new requirements mandated by the state would render the nationally recognized project, known as OARS, more dangerous for survivors and fundamentally impossible to administer “in accordance with our core principles of safety and justice.”
Originally added to welfare reform in 1998, the Family Violence Option was designed to reduce barriers for victims of domestic violence applying for cash assistance. By adding this provision, Congress intended that victims of domestic violence could move toward self-sufficiency with the assistance of advocacy programs. The Kansas OARS program was born out of this federal legislation.
“This has been a successful program in Kansas for 13 years,” Grover said. “During the past two years, however, SRS has repeatedly changed the OARS program, ratcheting up requirements for both survivors and advocates. Throughout this period, KCSDV and community based advocates have complied with every SRS request and change, often aiming at a moving target.”
So, “after extensive consideration and consultation with our member programs that provide domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy services in local communities, KCSDV will no longer seek to renew its long-standing collaborative project with Kansas SRS,” Grover said.
“We stand firmly with KCSDV on this decision,” said Laura Patzner, executive director of the Family Crisis Center. All programs were part of the decision to withdraw the request for this bid. This is not just a conflict between SRS and KCSDV.
“The true issue is that safe, voluntary, confidential services are what survivors need and deserve,” Patzner said. “To mandate things such as psychological evaluations and ‘corrective action plans’ is very inappropriate, potentially dangerous, and suggests that survivors somehow need to be ‘fixed.’”
This will be an effective increase of $600,000 for the local programs, the SRS said in a news release.
The KCSDV isn’t sure where this increase is coming from or how it would benefit local programs. The expiring contract was for $1.7 million, but had the coalition re-upped, it would have been for $1.4 million.
“Funding domestic violence programs directly through the community providers will allow us to deliver services and support straight to the victims,” Gilmore said. “In addition to increased funding, the community programs will have more flexibility and be able to better tailor their programs to individual needs.”
But, based on what’s heard, Patzner said this is misleading and there are strings attached. “They (the SRS) want each individual (community) program to sign a contract. The issue isn’t money, its what they want us to do.”
These contracts would impose the same mandates on the local agencies that were required of the coalition. “It goes against our mission” which is to provide comprehensive and confidential services free of charge.
Patzner said they may refuse to take part. “Funding wise, it would hurt.”
Under the OARS program as it is under the current contract, the coalition contracted with SRS and, essentially, subcontracted with the local centers. The coalition provided funding so the centers could hire advocates who would be trained at the state level and have access to state resources.
Now, this money will be gone. “We would have to absorb that into our regular services and do more with less,” Patzner said. Existing personnel and volunteers would take up the slack.
They are willing to do this, but there is more than money involved. Patzner said the coalition was “eyes and ears” tracking national issues for the smaller agencies.
The grants will go into effect July 1, which marks the beginning of the state’s fiscal year.