It is good that state officials reviewed and updated the list of physically disabled Kansans waiting to receive social services. It is also understandable that some advocates for the disabled are suspicious of the administration’s removal of more than 1,000 people from the list.
Even with the removal, the list remains too long – keeping the state at risk of federal legal action.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, announced last week that 1,226 people with physical disabilities had been removed from the waiting list for home- and community-based services. There had been 3,462 people on the list in July. But after doing an audit, the state decided that about a third of the people should no longer be on the list.
The audit also determined that about 250 people weren’t on the waiting list but should have been. So after those individuals were added, the others removed, and other moves on and off the list, the current total of people waiting for services is 2,197.
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Having an updated and more accurate list gives the state a better understanding of its responsibilities and should help it direct resources to those most in need. Sullivan announced, for example, that his agency was now ready to begin providing services to 100 people on the list by the end of the year.
But Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said he was “extremely concerned” about the removal of people from the waiting list, especially the nearly 300 people who couldn’t be contacted.
“Not only do you have to wait years to clear the waiting list in Kansas, now the state is saying if they can’t get ahold of you – due to you not having the money to add minutes to your prepaid cellphone, or you had to move to make ends meet – that they are going to add insult to injury and kick you off services,” Nichols told the Kansas Health Institute News Service. “It makes no sense.”
(KDADS officials said that if people were wrongly removed from the list, they would be added and wouldn’t lose their place in line.)
Others have questioned whether the main motive for removing people from the list was to make the state look better to federal officials. The U.S. Justice Department is considering legal action against the state for possible violations of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead ruling, which said that a disabled person has a right to live in the “least restrictive environment.”
Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for Kansas, said in a statement last week that the Justice Department is “continuing to monitor the state’s activities on all issues that may relate to any potential Olmstead violations.”
Still, it is good that the state is getting a better handle on who is on the waiting list and why. Now it needs to provide funding so that those needing help don’t have to keep waiting and waiting and waiting.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee