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KHI Report - Governor's claim of waiting list progress challenged

— Federal officials have not responded to Gov. Sam Brownback’s assertions that his administration is in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But advocates for the physically disabled say the governor’s recent open letter to federal officials asserting his administration is doing enough to help people with physical disabilities live in community settings should not go unchallenged.

“The state’s own numbers don’t support the governor’s position,” said Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas. “If you go back three years and look, there were 7,200 (physically disabled) people receiving services. Today there are 6,100. That’s not an increase, it’s a decrease.”

Jones’ group has been at the forefront of the state’s ADA-compliance issue, encouraging hundreds of disabled people to file complaints with federal authorities over a prolonged waiting list for services that has been growing since at least 2008.

An investigation

Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responded to the complaints in 2009 by opening an investigation.

Then last month, Leon Rodriquez, director of the HHS Office of Civil Rights, announced that efforts to get the Brownback administration to reduce the waiting list for home- and community-based services had stalled and that the case had been turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The decision increased the likelihood the state would be sued in federal court, similar to actions that the Justice Department has taken in other states with growing frequency under the administration of President Barack Obama.

Brownback responded to Rodriguez with a public letter expressing disappointment with the agency’s decision.

Underlying the dispute is a 1999 decision in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Olmstead v. L.C., which found that states have an obligation to ensure that Medicaid-funded services for people with physical and mental disabilities are provided in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs.

Subsequent rulings involving other states have found that stalled or slow-moving waiting lists constitute violations of the ADA, which became national law in 1990 in large part thanks to then-U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who was left disabled for life by serious wounds suffered in World War II.


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