Topeka — Thousands of Kansans with disabilities remain on waiting lists for crucial services because of unprecedented budget cuts during the past couple of years, officials said Monday.
“There are better ways to balance the budget than cutting social services that are essential to the health and well-being of Kansans with disabilities,” said Shannon Jones, director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas.
Jones said 70 Kansans have died while on waiting lists for services for so-called Medicaid “waiver” programs, which are designed to help people with severe disabilities remain in their homes and communities instead of moving to a nursing home.
After a historic drop in state revenues, the Legislature approved a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax that went into effect July 1.
But prior to that, social service programs were slashed significantly to help balance the budget. That included a 10 percent cut in Medicaid funding through July.
Currently, 2,444 Kansans with significant developmental disabilities are on a waiting list to receive home- and community-based services; 1,047 are receiving some services but are in line for additional services.
And 2,286 people with significant physical disabilities are on a waiting list.
“We are pushing the problem down on the family when you get right down to it,” said Don Jordan, Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services secretary.
In addition to the people on the waiting lists, SRS has eliminated some previously provided services, such as dental care and temporary respite care, Jordan told the House-Senate Home and Community-Based Services Oversight Committee.
Committee Chairman state Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, said he was concerned that the elimination of dental care could lead to more serious problems.
“If we cut those, it seems to me we would be putting people into more expensive hospitalizations,” Bethell said.
Programs designed to help the elderly have been hit hard, too, according to the Kansas Area Agencies on Aging Association.
About 400 low-income frail and elderly Kansans will be forced to wait for services under current budget projections, according to the association.
In addition, dental care, sleep cycle supports and assistive technology have all been eliminated in this program.
“There is simply no question that, given the magnitude of budget reductions, access to health care and in-home services in our state have been impaired, resulting in Kansas seniors receiving care in more expensive settings or not receiving care at all,” according to the association.