Kelly appoints single leader for 2 social services agencies, stops grants

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Kansas Gov.-elect Laura Kelly has named a social services veteran to be the interim leader of both the state’s child welfare agency and another department.

The incoming Democratic governor announced Thursday that Laura Howard will serve as interim secretary of both the Department for Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services.

Kelly spokeswoman Ashley All said the interim appointment will give Kelly time to find permanent secretaries once she takes office Jan. 14 but added that Howard could remain in one of the jobs permanently.

Howard is director of the Public Management Center at the University of Kansas. But she’s worked as a regional manager for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and as a deputy secretary for health care policy for the state.

In the same release Thursday, Kelly requested the current DCF leadership also delay implementation of the new foster care and family preservation “grant” programs. These so-called “grants” are essentially no-bid contracts that did not follow the state’s official procurement process. The governor-elect and incoming secretary will review whether the grants are legal and in the best interests of Kansas children and families.

“The process in which these grantees were evaluated and selected has not been transparent,” said Kelly. “Despite our best efforts during the transition, accurate and forthright information from current DCF leadership was hard to come by. In the coming months, our team will work to evaluate the current programs and contracts to determine the best path forward for our children and families.”

Kelly’s staff has contacted all grant recipients and requested they delay spending any state dollars until further notice by the incoming secretary.

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