Archive for Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Comment: Statehouse adventures

August 14, 2012

Drought relief for Leavenworth farmers

Leavenworth County has been designated a “contiguous disaster county” because of the current drought, making our agricultural producers eligible for federal disaster relief. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved haying on Conservation Reserve Program acres designated as CRP25. Hay is in short supply because of the drought and being able to hay approximately 726,000 more Kansas acres will provide immediate relief to livestock producers. The state has set up a website, drought.ks.gov, to provide easy access to drought information and links to state and federal resources for farmers and ranchers, small businesses, Kansans, and cities and counties.

Where do Kansas Lottery Veteran Scratch-Off Ticket proceeds go?

Since 2003, the profits from the Kansas Lottery’s Veteran Scratch-Off Ticket game have been used to directly fund designated veterans programs. This year’s budget distributes the profits from the tickets to fund the Kansas Veterans Home Fee Fund, the Veterans Enhanced Service Delivery Program, and the state’s National Guard Education Assistance Program.

Many do not know this, but Kansas has its own state-run Soldiers and Veterans homes. These facilities are located in Fort Dodge and Winfield. The Veteran Home at Winfield was established in 1997 on the grounds of the former Winfield State Hospital and Training Center. As the renovation was completed, the Home opened for residency and the first residents were admitted in 2000. In its first 10 years of operation, it has been home to 600 veterans and eligible dependents. To be eligible to live there, a veteran must have served on active duty and either have a service-connected disability or have been a prisoner of war, a veteran of the Mexican Border Period or a veteran of World War I. If space is available, a spouse or surviving spouse may also qualify.

The Veterans Enhanced Service Delivery Program is a set of three mobile, fully equipped and handicapped accessible “offices on wheels” that travel throughout Kansas to make applying for VA benefits more accessible to Kansas veterans and eligible family members. Without the mobile office, veterans and their families would have to travel to Topeka, Leavenworth or Wichita to be able to speak to a veteran service officer face to face. These offices set up shop at designated locations in your community or attend special events such as fairs, parades and festivals throughout the state of Kansas, educating veterans and assisting them in getting the benefits they have earned but may not even know about.

Forty percent of the veteran lottery ticket profits go to the National Guard Education Assistance Program. This program provides scholarships to cover the cost of tuition and fees for members of the Air and Army National Guard to attend eligible post-secondary schools. Legislators and the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs expressed concern this past session that with the new expanded GI Bill, Kansas scholarships to National Guard members may actually duplicate available federal benefits.

If true, the state money could be diverted to other veteran services that are not duplicated by federal programs. A Legislative Post Audit was requested to investigate this concern, and the results were made available in July.

According to the audit, there is some overlap of federal and state educational assistance, but federal dollars would not be able to fully replace state benefits. The federal Post-9/11 GI Bill is available to members of the guard who have served at least three months of eligible active duty, and the amount of benefits depends on the amount of time served on active duty. To qualify for 100 percent of the GI Bill benefits, the servicemember would have had to serve 36 months of active duty. Very few would qualify for the full benefits. Further, diversion of state money from the education assistance program would have a large impact on members of the Air Guard. The Army Guard is eligible for federal tuition assistance through the Army, so it uses the state funds as secondary funding to cover any remaining costs. The Air Guard uses the state funds as its primary source and actually uses 90 percent of the program’s funding.

Keep in touch

I am privileged and honored to be your voice in the Kansas Capitol. You can track my activities on my website, meier4kansas.com, my Facebook page, facebook.com/Meier4Kansas, and on Twitter at twitter.com/melaniemeier.

If I can ever be of assistance to you, please feel free to contact me at home or in Topeka. My office in Leavenworth is at 309 Cherokee St. My Topeka office address is Kansas State Capitol, Topeka, KS 66612. You can also reach me at the legislative hotline, 1-800-432-3924, or e-mail me at melanie.meier@house.ks.gov.

If you need to directly contact a particular agency in state government, you can find useful telephone numbers online at http://da.state.ks.us/phonebook.

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