GOP fails to deliver funding to reduce disability waiting lists

Kansas Republican leaders failed to deliver enough funding to substantially reduce disability waiting lists. The new funding will provide services for 1,000 disabled Kansans.

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April 16, 2024 - 2:52 PM

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, expressed disappointment in GOP leaders who said fixing long wait times for Kansas with disabilities would be a priority during the 2024 legislative session. Photo by Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Republican lawmakers vowed to be “laser-focused” this session toward helping Kansans with disabilities receive state services but came up short of a disability rights group’s recommendations — even as they funded an opera house and a mission to the southwest border.

Finalized by lawmakers April 5, the state budget blueprint sets aside $45.8 million, including $17.8 million from the state general fund, to fund services for 1,000 Kansans who are currently on the state’s waiting lists. The money would be evenly divided between people with intellectual and physical disabilities and those who have physical disabilities, and would be available for fiscal year 2025. The amount is double that proposed by the governor, but still short of an advocacy group’s recommended funding.

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said he was disappointed by budget priorities. Olson pointed to a $1 million provision for restoration of an opera house in Manhattan, as an example of spending that should be curtailed until the wait times are fixed.

“These kids need that money,” Olson said in an April 5 debate. “They need to be a priority. They haven’t been in this building for a long time. We help take care of them, but we don’t get enough removed off the list. I would like to see us make a plan for the next three or four years to knock that list down to nothing. … We haven’t really made an effort to knock that list down. And we’re making a big effort to get this opera house done. That embarrasses me.”

Also included in the budget bill was a $2 million allocation set aside for an “pregnancy compassion awareness” program to encourage women to give birth, and another $15.7 million to finance the deployment of state resources to help with Texas border control efforts.

The disability wait times have become one of the more-debated issues this legislative session as numbers reach a crisis level.

The latest data shows 7,661 Kansans currently waiting for services, with 5,279 people on the intellectual and developmental disabilities waitlist and 2,382 people on the physical disability waitlist. The budget bill would place into law a provision forbidding the combined waiting lists from exceeding 6,800 people.

Kansans who need help can wait more than 10 years for crucial services, such as in-home care. The Kansas Reflector previously examined how these long wait times hurt thousands of disabled Kansans and their families through a series of stories.

If enrollment trends continue along the same lines as last year, when 561 new people enrolled in the intellectual disability waitlist, the proposed funding wouldn’t be enough to stop the list from growing.

In September, House Speaker Dan Hawkins and Senate President Ty Masterson released a statement promising to address the waiting lists.

“Republicans are laser focused on eliminating Medicaid waiting lists to ensure the truly needy get the services they so desperately need,” Hawkins and Masterson said in their statement.

During a news conference on their legislative plans before the session, the two again said the waitlists needed to be addressed.

“We’ve got 6,000 on the waiting list right now, and certainly before anything else happens, that needs to be taken care of,” Hawkins said. “Those are people who have been on the list for years.”

“We want to make sure everyone has the ability to get off the list,” Masterson added.

The Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities recommended reducing the waitlists by 20% in fiscal year 2025. To do so, lawmakers would need to allocate enough funding to get 1,100 people off the intellectual and developmental disability waivers as well as 500 off of the physical disability waiver waitlist.

“The waitlists for the Intellectual/Developmental Disability and the Physical Disability Home & Community Based Services Medicaid Waiver programs have reached a crisis point,” reads the council’s statement. “Since KanCare launched in 2013, the IDD and PD Waitlists have gone from bad to worse to utterly out of control in Kansas.”

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