WICHITA, Kan. — A courthouse in south-central Kansas has opened a pantry for low-paid judicial workers who can’t afford to buy food.
The pantry at Sedgwick County District Court has been operating for about four months, The Wichita Eagle reported .
“Those who haven’t eaten, those who are struggling to feed their children, those who are having some difficulty making one paycheck to the next, will come up to that pantry, and without asking questions or qualifying, are able to take cans of tuna fish, boxes of mac and cheese, peanut butter, bread and take that home,” said Chief Judge James Fleetwood.
The judicial branch is seeking more funding from lawmakers to boost salaries. Courts have asked for nearly $10.3 million for non-judge employees and $7.5 million for judges.
Fleetwood told a House committee Monday that the need for a pantry is embarrassing and that employees deserve better.
“It’s a sad situation and I really hope that you will understand that it’s not a situation that will get any better soon,” Fleetwood said. “It will only get worse and worse.”
Almost a third of all Kansas judicial workers have starting salaries below the 2017 federal poverty level for a family of four, or $28,290, according to Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.
Some lawmakers agreed that workers deserve more money, but that court funding must be balanced with other needs.
“How, if you were sitting on this side of the table, do you justify that person, that woman who’s taking care of grandma in a Medicaid-assisted hospital who hasn’t had a raise in nine years, or a corrections officer who’s at prison, way below market value, mental health professionals … I’m just asking you to help me construct priorities on this side of the table,” said Republican Rep. Chuck Weber.
Stephanie Bunten, chief financial officer of the judicial branch, said: “All I know is the stories that we hear day in and day out of our employees, of the food bank, people cobbling money together” to help pay medical bills and for day care.
“We’re here asking for your help with that,” he said.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com