Kansas is allowing the plight of its disabled citizens to fester like a neglected bedsore. Whereas four years ago all physically disabled Kansans who met income guidelines received services to help them remain in their homes and recover from strokes and other debilitating conditions, more than 3,500 people are now on a waiting list.
The number of developmentally disabled Kansans waiting for service such as in-home care and vocational opportunities is around 4,000. If there is a plan for whittling down the lists, no one seems to know what it is.
“We deplore the waiting lists, but it’s a matter of money,” said Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
But budget analysts are projecting a $700,000,000 revenue surplus for Kansas government this year, and there has been no sign that the administration intends to spend any of it to provide even slight relief for disabled citizens. Kansas’ treatment of people who suffer from permanent developmental disabilities has been a long-running disgrace. Year after year, governors and legislators have opted to spend money elsewhere, or give it away in the form of tax breaks, while families wait for services to give children and adults a better quality of life.
The neglect of the physically disabled is a more recent phenomenon. Up until 2008, the state was able to handle the demand for services. That year, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration first froze new applications, and then set forth a policy that two people would have to come off the list before someone else could be added. De Rocha said the current administration’s policy is to bring one person into the program every time someone leaves. But people who watch the waiting lists say they are going nowhere but up.
Brownback’s budget proposal for next year cuts funding for the physically disabled by about $7 million. There is some talk in the Legislature about restoring those funds, but no concrete proposals. The people seeking services are Kansans 16 to 65 years old who are severely disabled enough to qualify for nursing home admission. They can have no more than $2,000 in assets.
Detra Butler of Kansas City, Kan., has been on the waiting list since the fall of 2009. She has severe arthritis and a bulging disc in her back, and finds it difficult to stand for more than 10 or 15 minutes, or walk the 13 steps to her washer and dryer. “If I could get somebody in here to help me, even sometimes,” said Butler, who at age 43 is widowed and has a 12-year-old son. “I can’t clean and mop or any of the things I used to do. I don’t want to put everything on my son.”
Another mother in Kansas City, Kan., has a disease that causes muscle weakness and has been on the waiting list for two years. She needs help with cleaning, shopping and getting in and out of the shower.
“That’s why my 9-year-old stayed home from school today, so she could help me a little bit,” she said. Note to Kansas: Having children skip school to help their ailing parents is a lousy backup plan.
Frustrated with the state’s lack of attention, disabled Kansans and their advocates have turned to the federal government. Hundreds of citizens have filed complaints with the office for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, claiming Kansas is violating a right upheld in a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Olmstead vs. L.C., by not enabling them to live in the “least restrictive environment.”
Federal investigators have met with advocates and members of the administration, including Brownback. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom has warned officials that the state is on thin ice. If the state is found to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal government might try to negotiate a settlement with Kansas or even sue to compel compliance.That would be an expensive proposition, and spending millions more on services for the physically and developmentally disabled doesn’t conform at all with the small-government, “pro-growth” strategy that Brownback has in mind.
But this is what Kansas has reaped by ignoring the needs of its most vulnerable citizens. The bill may finally be coming due.