KANSAS HEALTH INSTITUTE: Stakeholders seeking answers from DCF but agency officials decline invitation to meeting

By Andy Marso
August 27, 2015

People involved in Kansas child care will meet Monday to discuss a plan for moving the state in line with new federal regulations — without the state agency that will have to implement the plan.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of a Topeka-based nonprofit called Kansas Action for Children, said her organization is hosting the event at the request of child care workers, associations and continuing education specialists.

Cotsoradis said those groups are eager to get started on discussions about the reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG), because a final state compliance plan is due in March.

It’s the first change to the federal program since 1996 and Cotsoradis said it’s a rare and exciting opportunity to decide how to best allocate millions in state and federal funds for day care, after school programs, Early Head Start and other child development and workforce initiatives.

“I don’t think this is coming around again any time soon,” Cotsoradis said Thursday.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Two national child care experts are slated to attend.

Cotsoradis said officials from the Kansas Department for Children and Families were invited to attend and offered a chance to help shape the agenda.

She said she was disappointed they declined and that they have yet to shed any light on what plans the agency may be forming internally.

“We’ve made repeated attempts, as have other stakeholders, to reach out to the agency and get some sense of where they’re headed,” Cotsoradis said. “Their last response to me was simply that they would be engaging stakeholders when they felt it was appropriate.”

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, says her agency is hosting a meeting on federal child care grant changes at the request of stakeholders.

Sandra Kimmons, DCF’s director of economic and employment services, confirmed the agency would not be sending a representative to Monday’s meeting.

“We have a very similar one in a couple weeks, so it seemed a little duplicative,” Kimmons said.

Kimmons said DCF officials will be discussing the block grant reauthorization Sept. 8 with members of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Child Care Licensing Systems Improvement Team, an advisory group made up of industry experts. She said she believes the meeting is open to the public.

A representative of Kansas Action for Children said the meeting has not been previously announced.

The child care block grants fund almost $79 million in Kansas programs annually — $16 million from state funds, $42.2 million in direct federal funds and $20.4 million in funds transferred from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families allotment, which also comes from the federal government.

The federal government originally proposed to have states submit new plans for the block grants by June 2015 but pushed that back to March 2016 because federal administrative guidelines were late in coming.

In fact, the final guidelines are not yet published, though Cotsoradis said she expects them “any day.” Her group and the other stakeholders are working off preliminary guidelines released in April.

Cotsoradis said that, in fairness to DCF, federal officials have been slow in providing guidance, especially considering the March 2016 deadline and the public comments the states will be required to take in the interim.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge for the agency,” Cotsoradis said.

But that’s all the more reason to get started immediately in talking with stakeholders about potential plans, she added.

Cotsoradis said there’s also a possibility that some of the new federal guidelines surrounding child care subsidies for low-income families will conflict with a state law Kansas Republicans passed in June that enacted a raft of new welfare restrictions.

“I feel pretty comfortable in saying that there will have to be some changes (to the state law) as a result of reauthorization,” Cotsoradis said, if the state wants to keep the $42 million in federal money.

Earlier this summer federal scrutiny caused DCF to scrap a $25 ATM withdrawal limit for TANF recipients that lawmakers had originally mandated in the bill, then changed to give the agency discretion.

DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed said the agency is not aware of any conflict between the new state law and the pending federal regulations that would jeopardize the state’s block grant.

“The Kansas Department for Children and Families has received no guidance from its federal partners that the Kansas HOPE Act would need revision related to the Child Care Development Block Grant,” Freed said.

Read more from the Kansas Health Institute.

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