RALEIGH Moving to fix an oversight in the state budget that could force mentally disabled people out of group homes, House Speaker Thom Tillis on Friday asked the governor to call a special session before the General Assembly convenes in January.
Gov. Bev Perdue, in response, said she would consider it along with other options but acknowledged it was an urgent matter.
An estimated 2,000 could be displaced because of what amounts to a glitch in the budget that was hastily finalized at the end of the session this summer.
“We have worked diligently to find solutions to the problem of providing funds to group homes for mental health patients under new federal guidelines,” Tillis said in a statement his office distributed Friday. “While we continue to work toward long-term solutions, it is time to address the short-term funding issue that could potentially force our most vulnerable citizens out of their homes at the end of this year.”
Perdue’s office, in turn, released a non-committal statement from the governor: “I appreciate and share the Speaker’s concern for proper funding for residents of group homes. As a result of the General Assembly’s budget, I have been reviewing all possible options to address this important issue including a special session. I look forward to working with both the House and the Senate to fix the problem as soon as possible so that hundreds of North Carolinians are not out in the street at the end of the year.”
Tillis’ letter to the governor says the House “stands ready to take immediate action.” And, at a time when Perdue and Republican legislative leaders are fighting over the future of the Dix Hospital grounds in Raleigh and over the governor’s plan to appoint a new state Supreme Court justice, Tillis’ letter added: “You have my word that no additional matters will be taken up by the House of Representatives.”
Advocates for the mentally disabled have been working with the staffs of legislative leaders and the governor’s office for weeks, in hopes of fixing the problem with a quick special session.
Julia Adams, assistant director of governmental relations with The Arc of N.C., an advocacy and support organization, welcomed Tillis’ overture. “Today Speaker Tillis showed real leadership,” Adams said in an interview. “He stood up and said, ‘It’s not about politics, it’s not about policy, it’s not about who did what when. This is about real people.’ ”
The issue arose from North Carolina having different standards for the mentally disabled to qualify for services such as help eating, bathing and moving. It was more difficult for those living in their own homes than it was for those in group homes or adult care home facilities. Federal regulators warned the state for years to fix the discrepancy, and finally said it had to be done by Jan. 1 or lose funding.
The state came up with new rules, effective Jan. 1, and set aside $39.7 million to spend through June to help adult care homes through the transition, but inadvertently didn’t include group homes.
As a result, an estimated 600 developmentally disabled and another 1,400 mentally ill don’t qualify because they live in group homes. Adams said these tend to be small, six-bedroom facilities, which the residents have come to think of as home and have no other place to live.
Adams said she was optimistic about Perdue’s reaction. “I’m hoping she will join with Speaker Tillis and call for a special session as soon as possible,” Adams said.
Meanwhile, a blue-ribbon commission has been working on a long-term solution. A subcommittee has a meeting scheduled for Dec. 12, and the full commission is set to meet Dec. 19.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and co-chairman of the commission, said Friday attempts to find a short-term solution without convening a special session have failed.