Justice Department to look at waiting list for Kansans with physical disabilities

? Federal officials have sent the U.S. Justice Department complaints that the state of Kansas is not doing enough to provide assistance for thousands of Kansans with physical disabilities who are stuck on a waiting list for services for upwards of three years.

The development comes as state legislators are set to resume the 2012 legislative session on Wednesday and work on the budget, which includes funding for those with disabilities.

It also follows talks and meetings between the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state officials, including Gov. Sam Brownback and his leadership team.

Frank Campbell, regional manager for the Office of Civil Rights, said in a letter that his office “has concluded that voluntary resolution of the issues will not be possible.”

Campbell adds, “Based on that determination, we have decided to refer our ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance review to the Department of Justice for further investigation and proceedings.”

U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas Barry Grissom’s office and the Justice Department are meeting to consider further action.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was unsuccessful in an attempt to negotiate a consent decree with the state of Kansas to assure that people with physical disabilities in Kansas have access to the services they need to live in the community and avoid institutionalization, a statement from Grissom’s office said.

“The government’s goal was to protect the rights of the physically disabled and at the same time to seek a cost-effective solution and to avoid litigation,” said Grissom. “Unfortunately those negotiations were not successful,” he said.

Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas, said the state needs to increase funding for the services instead of spending money on legal fees to fight the federal government.

“We are going to spend more money on a lawsuit with the federal government instead of spending it on people waiting for services for three years. It just makes me sick to my stomach,” Jones said.

Jones said the entire waiting list could be served with an increase of $33 million, but that advocates have said maintaining a one-year waiting list would be a good compromise.

At issue is enforcement of what is known as the Olmstead ruling. That is a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says states must provide services to people with disabilities to enable them to be more integrated in the community.

There are approximately 3,500 Kansans with physical disabilities on a waiting list for those kinds of services. In addition there are approximately 3,900 people with developmental disabilities on a separate waiting list. Many remain on the waiting lists for three years or more.

Democratic legislators said more funds must be dedicated to reduce the waiting lists.

“At a time when we have $500 million in the bank, it is very difficult for us to look at people who are on a waiting list and say, we don’t have the ability to help you,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.