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Archive for Saturday, January 3, 2004

Judge blocks plan to drop disabled, poor off lists

January 3, 2004

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A Sedgwick County judge has issued a temporary restraining order halting plans to drop more than 400 poor and disabled adults from a pair of state-funded welfare programs.

"This is wonderful news," said Sister Therese Bangert, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Catholic Conference on issues affecting the poor.





District Judge Paul Clark issued the order late Wednesday afternoon in response to a lawsuit filed earlier in the day on behalf of three adults -- two men and a woman -- who were to be dropped from the state's General Assistance and MediKan programs Thursday.

A hearing on whether to lift the restraining order is set for Jan. 16 in Wichita.

In the lawsuit, Wichita attorney Jim Lawing argued:

l The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services disregarded a legislative directive that it come up with a plan for helping those about to lose their aid before the Jan. 1 cutoff.

l Without a plan, the cutoff violates the state provisions within the Kansas Constitution, requiring the state to "provide ... for those who, by reason of age, infirmity or other misfortune, may have claims upon the sympathy and aid of society."

Contacted Friday, Lawing declined comment.

"Sorry," he said, "I'll do my commenting in the courtroom."

General Assistance and MediKan provide a state-funded safety net for adults who are poor, disabled or unable to work and who've applied for Social Security disability payments.

On average, those eligible for General Assistance receive $158 a month. Most, especially those with a mental illness, rely on MediKan to pay for their prescription drugs.

More than 4,200 adults are on General Assistance and MediKan.

In 2002, cash-strapped legislators limited the programs' eligibility to two years, setting the stage for more than 400 recipients -- many of them already on the edge of homelessness -- to be dropped from the programs July 1, 2004. A year later, they made the cuts effective Jan. 1.

The two-year limit was expected to save the state $1.4 million in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and $3.1 million in fiscal 2005.

Mike Morgan, a Wichita attorney who specializes in disability law, said the processes for hearing applications for Social Security disability payments often take more than two years.

"I'm familiar with the three plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit," Morgan said. "And I can tell you that one of the three has been homeless since November; the other two would have been homeless if this had gone through.

"These are the people we're talking about. They have nothing. They're desperate."

SRS spokesman Kyle Kessler said department workers would spend much of next week contacting MediKan and General Assistance recipients affected by the restraining order.

"We're doing everything we can to let them know their benefits have been restored and to make sure they're getting the services they need," Kessler said.

In Douglas County, the cutoff would have affected nine recipients.

Sedgwick County accounts for nearly one-third of the state's MediKan and General Assistance caseloads.

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