Wednesday, February 21, 2007

We cannot play politics with social workers' lives

'Boni Bill' spurs Capitol barb-trading
Fletcher, Richards tangle over social worker safety funding
Brammer, Jack. Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 20, 2007, pg. C1.

FRANKFORT -- Gov. Ernie Fletcher sent a letter yesterday to House Speaker Jody Richards, expressing disappointment that a House committee last week did not fund a bill to improve the safety of social workers.

Both men, who are running for governor this year, accused each other of playing politics with an issue sparked by the murder of a social worker on the job.

"We cannot play politics with these workers' lives," said Fletcher, a Republican.

"This is a problem that has gotten significantly worse under the governor's watch," Richards, D-Bowling Green, countered in a statement. "As recently as his State of the Commonwealth address, he boasted about cutting the size of government by 2,000 positions, but there's a human cost to those cuts."

During Fletcher's term, more than 580 positions in the Department for Community Based Services have been lost, Richards said.

"And during the 2006-2008 fiscal year, he rejected a request to restore $4.5 million funding for nearly 80 social workers. And his budget vetoes last year further compounded the problems faced by this agency. He's had ample opportunity to make meaningful improvements to this cabinet, and he chose not to.

"Now he's seeking to gain political footing with an issue that affects the most vulnerable Kentuckians -- the abused elderly, disabled and children."

Richards said the House has been "met with resistance and had trouble getting accurate facts from the administration. Since the governor is stubbornly refusing to follow the directives of the General Assembly and find $2.5 million out of a $4 billion budget to fund these emergency measures, we will be meeting to discuss ways to satisfactorily resolve the issue."

Fletcher also sent his letter to all Department for Community Based Services employees.

Fletcher noted in his letter that state social service aide Boni Frederick was murdered in Henderson last October while transporting a small child for a visit with his biological mother. The death prompted social workers to demand more help and safety measures.

Fletcher said social workers, Cabinet leadership and lawmakers drafted what is known as the "Boni Bill." It recommended hiring 300 more social workers, identifying safe visitation sites, creating safe office space for social workers, providing two-way radios with panic buttons and initiating a program to provide indigent mothers with mentors, at a cost of $20 million.

Fletcher said the money was available from a $401 million surplus.

The legislation the House Health and Welfare Committee approved "drastically departed from our bipartisan effort," Fletcher said.

"No funding is no reform. This action will put off for months the obvious steps we need to take today to protect those on the front lines who are assisting Kentucky's most needy."


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