Kansas GOP leaders unable to secure adequate funding to address disability waiting lists

Sen. Rob Olson, a Republican from Olathe, expressed his disappointment with GOP leaders who had previously claimed that addressing the issue of long wait times for individuals with disabilities would be a top priority in the upcoming 2024 legislative session.

Republican lawmakers in Topeka promised to prioritize assisting Kansans with disabilities in accessing state services during this session. However, despite their claims, they fell short of meeting the recommendations put forth by a disability rights group. Interestingly, they managed to allocate funds for an opera house and a mission to the southwest border instead.

The state budget blueprint, which was approved by lawmakers on April 5, allocates a total of $45.8 million to support services for 1,000 Kansans who are currently on the state’s waiting lists. This funding, which includes $17.8 million from the state general fund, will be divided between individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, as well as those with physical disabilities. It is important to note that this amount is twice as much as what the governor initially proposed, although it falls short of the funding recommended by an advocacy group. This funding will be available for the fiscal year 2025.

Senator Rob Olson, a Republican from Olathe, expressed his disappointment with the budget priorities. He specifically highlighted the allocation of $1 million for the restoration of an opera house in Manhattan as an example of spending that should be delayed until the issue of long wait times is resolved.

“These children are in desperate need of that money,” Olson emphasized during a passionate debate on April 5. “They should be our top priority. It has been an incredibly long time since they set foot in this building. While we do our best to support and care for them, it’s disheartening to see that not enough is being done to alleviate their suffering. I firmly believe that we must develop a concrete plan over the next three or four years to completely eradicate this waiting list. It’s high time we take serious action and not let this issue continue to be ignored. It pains me to see how much effort is being put into completing the opera house, while we fail to address this pressing matter. It’s truly embarrassing.”

The budget bill also allocated $2 million for a program aimed at promoting compassion and awareness about pregnancy, urging women to choose childbirth. Additionally, $15.7 million was set aside to support the deployment of state resources for Texas border control endeavors.

The issue of disability wait times has sparked intense debate during this legislative session, as the numbers have reached a crisis level.

According to the most recent data, there are currently 7,661 individuals in Kansas who are waiting for services. Out of this total, 5,279 people are on the waitlist for intellectual and developmental disabilities, while 2,382 people are on the waitlist for physical disabilities. In an effort to address this issue, the budget bill includes a provision that would limit the combined waiting lists to a maximum of 6,800 individuals.

Kansans in need of assistance may endure waiting periods of over 10 years for essential services, such as in-home care. A comprehensive investigation by the Kansas Reflector shed light on the detrimental impact these extended wait times have on thousands of disabled individuals in Kansas and their families.

If enrollment trends continue on the same trajectory as last year, when 561 new individuals joined the intellectual disability waitlist, the allocated funding would not be sufficient to prevent the list from expanding further.

In September, House Speaker Dan Hawkins and Senate President Ty Masterson made a commitment to tackle the issue of waiting lists.

In their statement, Hawkins and Masterson expressed the Republicans’ unwavering commitment to addressing Medicaid waiting lists and ensuring that those who are genuinely in need receive the essential services they require.

Addressing the waitlists was once again emphasized by the two during a news conference discussing their legislative plans for the session.

According to Hawkins, there is currently a waiting list of 6,000 people that needs to be addressed before any other actions can take place. These individuals have been patiently waiting for years to be attended to.

Masterson emphasized the importance of ensuring that every individual has the opportunity to remove themselves from the list.

The Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, in collaboration with the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, has proposed a plan to decrease the waitlists by 20% by fiscal year 2025. This goal can be achieved by securing adequate funding that would allow 1,100 individuals to be removed from the intellectual and developmental disability waivers waitlist, as well as 500 individuals from the physical disability waiver waitlist.

“The Kansas council has expressed deep concern over the escalating waitlists for the Intellectual/Developmental Disability and Physical Disability Home & Community Based Services Medicaid Waiver programs. According to their statement, the situation has reached a crisis point, with the waitlists going from bad to worse and now being utterly out of control since the launch of KanCare in 2013.”

According to Sen. Rick Billinger, the Republican chairman of a Senate committee responsible for budget allocations, he shares Olson’s sentiment but acknowledges that there are limitations to the available resources.

According to Billinger, the Legislature will revisit the issue of addressing the lists next year.

Billinger emphasized the importance of having zero students on the waitlist. He firmly believes that every child should be given the opportunity to receive the care and support they need. While acknowledging the limitations of available resources, Billinger is committed to doing everything in his power to improve the situation and ensure that no child is left waiting.

The fate of the state funding blueprint now rests in the hands of Governor Laura Kelly as she reviews the $25 billion budget bill and decides whether to give her approval or exercise her veto power.

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