Archive for Sunday, August 24, 2003

Funds don’t clear SRS waiting list

Lawmakers surprised last-minute money put only small dent in number of Kansans with disabilities waiting for services

August 24, 2003


There's been a big misunderstanding.

Legislators left this year's session thinking they'd cobbled together enough money to move almost 900 Kansans with disabilities off the state's long-stalled waiting list for services.

That's not going to happen.

Instead, only about 250 people will move off the list.

"How can that be? I thought we put in $8 million to address the waiting-list issue," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, the Wichita Republican who is chairwoman of the House subcommittee overseeing the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services budget.

"This is the first I've heard of this," Landwehr said last week.

"I thought we made a major impact on the waiting-list issue," said Rep. Bob Bethel, R-Alden and a member of Landwehr's subcommittee. "This is news to me."

In the waning hours of the 2003 session, legislators added $8 million to the state's waiting-list budget, which drew $12 million more in federal funds.

Lawmakers expected the $20 million to be spent on the waiting list but gave SRS the flexibility to figure out how best to spend it.

Now, welfare officials say most of the added money is needed to pay bills left over from last fiscal year and to offset the ever-increasing costs of services.

What happened

Much of the increased cost, they say, is tied to SRS taking on more than the usual number of emergency placements -- people who, without services, would have to move to a nursing home -- in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"I can assure you that every penny designated for the waiver is going to the waiver," said SRS Secretary Janet Schalansky, referring to the Medicaid waiver program that finances in-home services for people with physical and developmental disabilities.

Schalansky said the depth of the shortfall caused by the leftover bills and the emergency placements wasn't known until after the Legislature adjourned.

That's probably true, Landwehr said.

"I know we went out of there thinking we'd put in enough to move 800-plus people off the waiting list," she said. "But I also know that things can change and you can only deal with what you know. But I think we ought to find out what SRS knew and when they knew it because if they knew this and didn't tell us, well, let's just say we'd have to make some changes."

Emergency needs

In the state's fiscal year that ended June 30, Kansas' Medicaid waiver programs spent $63.8 million on services for people with physical disabilities and $198.9 million on services for people with developmental disabilities.

In an average month, the waivers serve 3,866 people with physical disabilities and 5,812 with developmental disabilities.

Because the emergency placements caused SRS to overspend its waiver budget by $6 million last fiscal year, Schalansky said the money lawmakers thought would be used to trim the waiting list was needed simply to fund services for people already receiving them.

"The alternative," Schalansky said, "would have been to tell people in emergency situations that we were out of money or start cutting people off who were receiving services. We didn't want to do that."

After last year's costs are built into this year's budget, SRS has enough money to pay for about 250 new slots for people now on the waiting lists, Schalansky said.

Also, she said, SRS is "unfreezing" the waiting list so that when someone no longer needs services, someone from the waiting list can take that place.

Static list

Advocates for people with disabilities say that doesn't put much of a dent in the waiting list, noting that more than 1,700 people still will be without services.

"We're incredibly disappointed," said Gina McDonald, president and CEO of Kansas Association of Centers for Independent Living, a Salina-based group that lobbies on behalf of programs like Independence Inc. in Lawrence.

"I'm looking at a list of those who are finally getting to move off the waiting list -- the first of the 250," said Shannon Jones, executive director at the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas in Topeka. "It shows that most recent person had waited 65 weeks for services -- that's over 15 months. How can anyone say that's acceptable?"

Advocates want SRS to use part of the recent $154 million windfall Kansas got from the federal government to move an additional 500 people off the waiting list.

"The money is there," said Rocky Nichols, a former legislator and executive director at Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services.

The windfall is Kansas' share of Congress' $20 billion relief package tied to President Bush's $350 billion tax-cut plan.

Until last month, Nichols was ranking Democrat on the House budget committee.

"The legislative intent was pretty clear: Get people moving off the waiting list -- more than 800 people, not 379," Nichols said. "(SRS) needs to make the waivers whole."

But Schalansky's boss, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, has said she wanted to use the windfall to shore up the state's end-of-year cash reserves.

Schalansky plans to meet Thursday with Nichols, Jones and McDonald.

"We won't be pointing fingers," McDonald said. "Everybody -- SRS, the advocates, legislators -- acted on the best information they had at the time, but that information's changed. So the question now is: What are we going to do about it?"

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