Sunday, July 26, 2015

Justice Department: Virginia Ignored Court order on Funding for the Disabled

It has been over eleven months since my late father-in-law died leaving behind an adopted son who was a  fetal alcohol syndrome child with intellectual disabilities.   To say that it has been a nightmare to secure a long term housing placement for him - my husband is the executor and trustee of his father's estate - would be a huge understatement.   While a solution finally appears at hand after countless meetings, letters to the Lt. Governor and Attorney General, one of the big problems is that in keeping with the Virginia GOP's (and national GOP's agenda) of kicking the less fortunate to the gutter, Virginia simply doesn't fund programs for the disabled.  Only Mississippi provides less funding even though Virginia is a far wealthier state.  Indeed, the situation is so bad that Virginia is under a federal court order to address the shocking problem.  As the Washington Post is reporting, the Department of Justice is now charging the Virginia has ignored the federal mandate to address the travesty.  Here are story highlights:

The Justice Department says Virginia is not being serious enough about efforts to comply with court-ordered reforms to its program for people with disabilities.

A letter to the federal judge overseeing a 2012 federal settlement, sent by the Justice Department last month, points as evidence to the way the state has used proceeds from the sale of state-run institutions that treated people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Under a 2014 Virginia code adopted as part of the state’s efforts to help people being moved out of those institutions to adapt to life inside private group homes or regular community settings, money from the property sales is meant to go toward providing more services for that population.

But the state gained zero dollars for disabled residents from the $5.4 million sale of a shuttered institutional site in Chesapeake, Va., this year, the Justice Department said.

Instead, the money was used to cover a reduction of that same amount in the budget of the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, the agency in charge of disabilities programs in Virginia.

Relatives and advocates for the disabled say they fear the state might do the same if it finds a buyer for the site of another institution — the 78-acre Northern Virginia Training Center near George Mason University that has been assessed at $24 million.

“If there’s not any assurance that the funds will go back into expanding services, that’s obviously a big concern,” said Rikki Epstein, head of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Arc, a national nonprofit group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “That is the whole purpose of the DOJ settlement agreement: to expand community services for people with disabilities.”

State budget instructions from the General Assembly, she said, ordered the department to use the proceeds from the Chesapeake sale to make up what the department had lost in its general fund appropriations for fiscal 2015. 

Virginia is among the last states in the country to initiate reforms under a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that requires people with disabilities to be moved out of government institutions and into community settings. 

Another 17,000 disabled Virginians who did not live in the training centers are also affected by the court settlement, which calls for making it easier for all people who are either receiving state aid or on the wait list for that assistance to integrate into community settings.

The monitor said the state has dragged its heels in implementing a redesign of its Medicaid waiver system that would increase the reimbursement rates. He also said that the state isn’t providing enough new Medicaid waivers to meet the needs of a growing population of people with disabilities in Virginia. There are nearly 10,000 people on a wait list for those vouchers.

The situation in Virginia is a disgrace.  What is most maddening is that the Virginia GOP (and national GOP) seeks to end all abortions, yet once individuals are born, any concern for them immediately disappears.  They oppose any and all funding for children, have blocked Medicaid expansion, and blame the less fortunate for their own difficulties.  While we have seemingly found a solution for my adopted brother-in-law, over 10,000 remain waiting.  It's time the Virginia GOP cease its fetus worship and start worrying about living children and individuals with disabilities through no fault of their own.

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