(TNS) — The Kansas agency in charge of foster care and other welfare programs expects to run deficits this year in its salary budgets and has not been approving all requests to fill open positions, an official at the Department for Children and Families said in email to employees just days before Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer is expected to announce budget increases.
Colyer on Monday will outline "budget enhancements" for DCF, his office said. The agency has been under intense scrutiny this year over its management of foster care. A spokesman for Colyer wouldn't disclose details on Friday.
The Legislature also reconvenes on Monday and will receive a budget proposal from Gov. Sam Brownback later in the week.
An email from Bill Gale, DCF's Wichita regional director, provided to The Eagle indicates the agency wants additional funds for salaries.
"All regions are currently projected to have deficits in their salary budgets this year. The State Legislature begins this year's session on Monday and the Governor's budget recommendations will be presented later in the week. DCF had requested additional salary budget dollars. Those would be helpful but might not cover everything," Gale wrote in the email, sent Friday afternoon.
Gale also said that DCF administration has begun to closely monitor requests to fill positions and has not been approving all of them.
The Eagle has asked DCF for additional details on the salary deficits. A spokeswoman indicated the information might not be available until next week.
DCF in November asked the Legislature for nearly $20 million more in funding for the current and next budget year. Some of that would go toward stopping the shrinkage of field staff, according to an agency budget request.
It's unclear whether the request will be included in Brownback's budget proposal.
Colyer will announce the budget increases for DCF along with interim agency secretary Gina Meier-Hummel, who replaced long-time secretary Phyllis Gilmore in December.
Meier-Hummel is under pressure to improve the performance of DCF, which lawmakers have criticized after child deaths and revelations this fall that some 70 children in the foster care system are missing.
A 2016 review of DCF by state auditors found low morale among workers. Only 24 percent of foster care staffers told auditors that they thought morale was high.
In January 2017, Gilmore told lawmakers the agency was "working to implement a number of strategies and incentives to better recruit and retain child welfare staff."
Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, said many DCF workers are not being paid enough.
"That's where I would start picking up the pieces. We seem to have a lot of things that are falling through the cracks," Bollier said. "And I think that it has to do with not funding appropriately and most of our funds go to personnel."
Rep. Monica Murnan, D-Pittsburg, said the foster care system had been "starved" and lawmakers need to add additional resources. Murnan also called for an increase in child care assistance.
"We have put more work on the contractors without paying them for it and they're trying to stretch it and that's why we have so many holes appearing," Murnan said.