Politics & Government

Developmentally disabled Kansans meet with legislators

TOPEKA — A group of Wichitans with developmental disabilities visited with legislators Tuesday about their successes and their needs.

Representatives and clients of Starkey, Ketch and Rainbows United were among those from Wichita who participated in InterHab's Day at the Capitol. The organizations serve Kansans with Down syndrome, autism and other mental disabilities.

Services for the developmentally disabled include group housing and independent living, job training and opportunities to work, and in-home counsel and aid. Advocates are concerned that they may lose the last bit of funding they receive from state grants, about $3.5 million, which Gov. Sam Brownback has indicated he may cut from the 2012 budget.

More than 300 recipients who depend on the grants because they aren't eligible for Medicaid would suddenly be without any government support, according to Starkey officials.

Participants Tuesday wore blue T-shirts bearing the InterHab slogan "Invisible Kansans."

"I told them, 'It's really important for you to be the face of developmental disabilities in our state, so that they know your needs,' " said Jamie Opat, director of communications for Starkey.

"They were able to share their success stories with the legislators and to demonstrate the benefits of the state's commitment to them."

Of particular interest this week to the participants in the advocacy day is Senate Bill 210, which would set Kansas up to solicit federal funds.

Matt Fletcher, associate executive director of InterHab, said that under SB 210, providers of services would assess themselves a small percentage for those services. They would then pool that money and solicit federal waiver funds, without asking for any money from the state.

Fletcher said that the proposal to expand waiver services to cover developmental disabilities has not yet been approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, but that it could be soon.

"When and if it is approved at the federal level, we'll be positioned to apply for it if SB 210 passes," Fletcher said.

Opat said there are currently more than 4,000 Kansans with developmental disabilities who aren't getting services. If funds continue to be cut, there are many more who will be dropped.

"There is often the assumption that these people could just go elsewhere, like a nursing home," Opat said. "But many of them who don't have severe enough disabilities won't be able to qualify for some other area of service — some of whom have been getting our services for 30 years."