State budget falls short on social services

State budget blueprint leaves out Kansans who need state disability services.

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March 18, 2024 - 3:50 PM

Current allocations wouldn’t be enough to stop the wait times for Medicaid waivers from growing. Photo by Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — The governor and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to reduce wait times for thousands of the state’s most vulnerable residents in need of health care.

But current funding proposals fall millions short of the amount needed to shrink the list of Kansans waiting for crucial state disabilities services.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, pointed to earlier statements from Republican leadership in the Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly, announcing their commitment to mitigating a problem 20 years in the making.

“That’s an incredible promise to make to people with disabilities who are suffering on the waiting list,” Nichols said. “Thus far, that version of the budget has not fulfilled that promise — nowhere close.”

Kansans with intellectual or developmental disabilities are eligible for Medicaid-funded support waivers that cover a variety of needed services, such as in-home care. Wait times can last more than 10 years, and more and more Kansans have been added to the slow-moving lists. The wait list for intellectual and developmental disabilities services is at 5,279 people, according to February data. The physical disability wait list is around 2,382 Kansans.

The Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, which has characterized the wait times as “from bad to worse to utterly out of control” recommends reducing the waitlists by 20% in fiscal year 2025. To do so, lawmakers would need to fund 1,100 slots on the I/DD waiver and 500 slots on the PD waiver.

While the budget is far from being finalized, Senate lawmakers approved a state spending blueprint Thursday that allocates $23 million to solve long waiting lists for disability services, dovetailing with Gov. Laura Kelly’s $23 million fiscal year 2025 budget recommendation for the lists. The funding would create an estimated 250 slots on both the I/DD and PD waiting lists.

If enrollment trends continue along the same lines as last year, when 561 new people enrolled in the intellectual disability wait list, the current recommendation wouldn’t be enough to stop the lists from growing — let alone reducing the number of people waiting for services.

“The waiting list is going to get worse, wait times are going to get longer under that,” Nichols said. “I’m hopeful that the legislators will realize that and add more money in the budget, which they can do at any point during the process.”

The Kansas Reflector previously examined how these long wait times hurt thousands of disabled Kansans and their families through a series of stories.  At the time, House Speaker Dan Hawkins and Senate President Ty Masterson said they were “laser focused on eliminating Medicaid waiting lists to ensure the truly needy get the services they so desperately need.”

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