Last month the Kansas City Workers’ Rights Board of Missouri Jobs with Justice hosted a well-attended hearing at St. Mark’s Hope and Peace Lutheran Church to examine the devastating conditions in the Family Support Division of Missouri’s Department of Social Services as it eliminates 700 caseworkers.
A panel made up of Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department; Rev. Ron Brooks of the Lazarus Project; Jackson County Legislator Theresa Garza-Ruiz; Kathleen Kennedy of the Bishop Sullivan Center; State Rep. Judy Morgan; Anita Russell, president of the Kansas City chapter of the NAACP; and Rev. Jennifer Thomas of Communities Creating Opportunities, heard testimonies from division caseworkers in areas of health and nutrition and clients and directors of charitable programs that aid those assisting client access.
Story after story about division understaffing, failed computer systems, botched attempts to privatize services and overwhelming caseloads shocked panelists when they questioned witnesses and provided closing statements. Caseworkers spoke not of their own job security but their inability to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens: the working poor, children, the aged and those in family crisis.
Clients spoke about unreturned calls and applications, being shuffled among caseworkers, each time having to start over to bring someone else up to speed.
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In sum, the division is in crisis and has cut services into the bone and marrow of its structure. It faces the loss of more caseworkers, whom it will not replace.
Statistics provided by department director Brian Kinkade at a state Capitol hearing on Sept. 29 tell the larger story. The department received 250,000 calls in one month regarding services. The majority of callers — 150,000 — hung up because of long wait times.
Further, even though Medicaid enrollment handled by the division in the state is dropping and fewer Missourians are enrolled in MO HealthNet, at the end of June the number of pending Medicaid applications stood at 43,740, up from 29,191 at the end of June 2013.
Since the reorganization of the Family Support Division began, Missourians receiving nutritional assistance have declined by 70,000 individuals. The number of people receiving health insurance through the Medicaid program has declined by 50,000.
The Kansas City Workers’ Rights Board and Missouri Jobs with Justice believe that public institutions should be accountable to the communities they serve. We are extremely concerned not only about expanding vital social services but about ensuring their accessibility.
As a result of this and a hearing last spring by the St. Louis Workers’ Rights Board, we not only want to shed light on a critical problem, we call upon Missouri administrators and the General Assembly to reverse all staff cuts to the Family Support Division and take necessary steps to ensure that Missourians in need always have the ability to see a caseworker face to face to share their unique circumstances. Our leaders must seriously examine this crisis and solve this problem affecting all communities throughout our state.
Robert N. Minor of Kansas City is chair of the Kansas City Workers’ Rights Board of Missouri Jobs with Justice and emeritus professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas.