Kerrey in Senate race, key child welfare change put on hold

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February 28, 2012 - 6:00pm

Former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey entered the race to get his old job back today, and a key state senator took a step back in her drive to reform the state's child welfare system.

Three weeks after he said he wouldn't run, Kerrey tossed his hat into the ring for the Democratic Senate nomination. He said the central challenge is to solve the nation's budget problem. And he said he favors raising taxes on upper income people to reduce them for the middle class.

"I think the whole conversation about raising the upper income tax, or raising taxes let's say on people over $1,000,000 or $250,000 in order to lower the payroll tax is exactly what we ought to be doing. Not as a way to punish people who are paying more, but to make sure you apportion the burden so that when you're watching middle class incomes, you're seeing net middle class incomes go up," he said.

On foreign policy, Kerrey said he supports the current U.S. approach of applying sanctions to Iran, and while he said military action should remain an option, the United States needs to be very careful. "I supported Iraq and Afghanistan but you look at it today, we've spent $3 trillion and 6,000 Americans dead and countless others that are wounded and impaired for the rest of their lives, and you have to ask yourself What did we get out of it?,'" he said. "So whatever you do in Iran, you have to make certain that you apply those sanctions as much as you can and make sure that you've got a substantial broad coalition involved as we currently do."

Kerrey was asked about rival Democratic candidate Chuck Hassebrook's statement that he got into the race based on Kerrey's word that he would not run. Kerrey said he talked to Hassebrook and other potential Democratic candidates about the difficulties of facing various Republican candidates before he said he wouldn't run. Kerrey said the other potential candidates were urging him to make a quick decision. "I told them at the time It's not fair. If you want to be a candidate, be a candidate.' They said If you get in its going to be hard to beat.' I said Look, it's going to be hard to beat Jon Bruning or Don Stenberg. Does that deter you from getting in the race? Make up your mind if you want to be a candidate.' It's not up to me to clear the field for myself and it's not up to me to make certain the field is cleared for somebody else."

Kerey who has lived in New York City for a decade since leaving office, said he changed his mind about running after his wife said if it would make him happy, they could manage.

In the Nebraska Legislature on the topic of child welfare, Sen. Kathy Campbell, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said the committee would propose changing a bill that would have required the state to take back case management responsibilities from private agencies.

Privatization has been a lightning rod for criticism of how the state handles abused and neglected children. Costs have skyrocketed, and four of the five so called lead agencies have withdrawn or been terminated for financial reasons.

The latest of those, KVC, announced last week that it was ending its case management contract with the state effective Thursday. That leaves only Nebraska Families Collaborative, or NFC, as a lead agency.

The bill, LB961, originally proposed to end that arrangement in July, 2013. Now, Campbell says, the committee will allow NFC to continue case management, but as a "pilot" program: "In the last 10 days, the picture of what is happening in child welfare has greatly changed. And the Health Committee is willing to work on an amendment to make sure that we are protecting the children and the families, and setting forth the course that we have outlined in LB961. It is our core responsibility, but we understand that perhaps this pilot, or framing this pilot, might give us much needed information," Campbell said.

The pilot program would let NFC continue case management, but with new conditions in the future. Campbell said a future amendment would determine the appropriate conditions and set a timetable for assessing the program.

She said the amendment would also try to protect the state against large financial settlements in the future. The state is paying KVC a $6 million dollar settlement, and is increasing payments to NFC to take over the work in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard said NFC had said it would withdraw from its contract if case management were taken away. NFC Executive Director Dave Newell said the agency had made no such threat. Newell said NFC had been discussing its concerns with the legislation and believed it would be able to continue to serve children under the amendment being discussed.




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