By Santiago Kahn
January 24, 2017 

The governor’s plan to fix the deficit includes changing how Kansas uses money from a big tobacco lawsuit settlement, but some critics say it could short-change children’s programs in the process.

Right now, the Children’s Initiatives Fund receives an annual payment of up to $60 million from the 1999 tobacco lawsuit settlement.

Now, the governor wants to sell that fund to Citigroup for a lump sum payment of $530 million. A payment that could be much larger over time if the state doesn’t sell it.

“This isn’t just a theoretical question,” said Deanna Berry with the Russell Childhood Development Center. “These are our kids, and we need to take care of them.”

Berry says many programs throughout southwest Kansas depend on that funding.

“In our rural area,” she said, “we are under-resourced already, and so if this were to go away, families really don’t have a lot of options for where to go for help.”

Those programs include parental training, behavioral and speech therapy, and individualized, at-home assistance to meet a variety of needs of young children.

“Those would all go away if the funding were cut. That’s around 4000 children a year that would not receive services.”

Those children and their families are across 19 counties that Russell Childhood Develop Center serves.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said, “Governor Brownback’s proposed budget fully funds the Children’s Cabinet programs. Decisions on how those funds are allocated are made by the Children’s Cabinet, not the Governor.”

With the existing budget shortfall, Berry is not convinced the money will come through.

“I have seen where the governor says that our current programs would continue to be funded through the state general fund,” she said, “but with the history of how other programs have fared I would be very concerned about that.”

At this point, the governor’s vision is just a proposal, one that the legislature had previously blocked.

“I don’t know if I would say I’m confident,” said Berry, “but I’m cautiously optimistic that the legislature will see that this isn’t a wise financial decision.”

KSN reached out to Children’s Initiative officials to ask if this would cut all their funding, but the director could not be reached for comment.

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