KHI News Service

Hundreds protest waiting list for social services

Statehouse rally brought developmentally disabled from around the state

By Dave Ranney | April 27, 2011

Several hundred people with developmental disabilities and their advocates came to the Statehouse today urging legislators to fund community-based social services.

“We have 65 people who are on the waiting list for services,” said Cassandra Fisher, who works at Arrowhead West, a 14-county program based in Dodge City. “Some of them have been waiting for five years. They are not getting the services they need to live as normal a life as they can."

Terry Stalcup, a client of the Nemeha County Training Center in Seneca, raises his hand in a show of support for a bill that would make helping people with developmental disabilities find jobs a state priority. Stalcup attended a rally outside the Statehouse on Wednesday that drew several hundred people worried about pending state spending cuts.

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The group held a rally on the Capitol's south steps. It was coordinated by Interhab, an association representing most of the state’s nonprofit programs for the developmentally disabled. It featured short speeches by Reps. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, and Jerry Henry, D-Cummings.

The rally has become an annual event in recent years as lawmakers have worked at tightening state spending.

Earlier this year, Gov. Sam Brownback proposed eliminating a $3.5 million, state-funded grant program used to fund services for the developmentally disabled who are not eligible for Medicaid because they have too much income or assets.

The House Appropriations Committee voted to restore the $3.5 million but with $2 million set aside for reducing the state-administered waiting list for services. The remaining $1.5 million would go back into the grant program.

Ralliers held up signs showing how many miles have been walked by advocates as part of the Walk A Mile in My Shoes Campaign. The campaign, which enlisted walkers all across the state, was intended to bring attention to the needs of people with developmental disabilities. Pictured are clients of Cottonwood, Inc. in Lawrence.

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The Senate Ways and Means Committee restored $2.8 million, all of it to be spent on the waiting list.

Those differences remain unresolved until both chambers agree on a budget plan.

“Right now, the state-funded grants fund services for about 300 people statewide,” said Maury Thompson, executive director at Johnson County Developmental Services. “It’s a small group, but if the funding goes away, the services go away.”

In Kansas, community-based programs serve more than 8,800 developmentally disabled adults and children, costing taxpayers $315.3 million a year. Most of that is financed with federal aid, but $93.1 million comes from the state general fund.

More than 4,600 people with developmental disabilities are waiting for services.

“What the House and Senate committees have done makes sense, particularly when we’re looking at a huge waiting list,” Thompson said, referring to the decision to move money out of the state-funded grant program. “They want to draw down the federal match that comes with Medicaid. But when you do that, there’s a downside. There’s a small non-Medicaid eligible population that’s left with no options.”

Others at the rally expressed support for House Bill 2336, which would make helping people with developmental disabilities find meaningful employment a priority for state government.

Sen. Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, said he sided with the rally’s organizers.

“To me, the things we’re talking about here today are an obligation of the community, an obligation of government,” he said.

Legislators are in the wrap-up session and will hear from a number of interest groups worried about budgets before the legislative session ends, likely sometime in May.

Kansans for Quality Communities, a coalition of education and social-service advocates, has announced it will unveil its “Save Our State” campaign during a 9 a.m. press conference Thursday at the Statehouse.

An hour later, Americans for Prosperity will host a anti-tax rally, “Not Yours to Take,” outside the Statehouse. Several legislators are expected to address the gathering.