Under the Dome

Tillis calls for special session on funding for mental disabled in group homes

House Speaker Thom Tills on Friday asked Gov. Bev Perdue to convene a special session on funding for the state’s mental health group homes.

Update: Perdue says she'll consider it, among other options.

Tillis, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, sent a letter to the governor outlining his request.

“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. “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.

“The House of Representatives stands ready to fix this problem in a special session, and I encourage the governor to call us back to Raleigh to do the right thing for our citizens.”

An estimated  2,000 people currently living in group homes could be without a place to stay as of Jan. 1 because of a funding mix-up. For years, the state's standards made it harder for people to qualify for such services if they lived at home, but that violated federal rules. To get in compliance, the state changed its system so that those living in licensed facilities had to meet the same qualifications as those living in a private home.

Those new rules, effective Jan. 1, make it harder for people living in group homes to qualify. The changes affect about 10,000 people in adult care homes, too, but the legislature set aside $39.7 million in the budget to spend through June to help adult care homes compensate for the loss of federal money. Group homes were not included in the plan.

Republican lawmakers said they would be willing to consider changing the law to make group homes eligible for the Medicaid replacement money. But the legislature won't start passing more laws until Jan. 30, leaving a gap of at least a month when most group home residents wouldn't be eligible for personal care under Medicaid.

Tillis vows in his letter not to take up any other matters if a special session is convened.

Updated: Perdue's office issued this statement:

“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.”

Another update: Julia Adams of The Arc of N.C., said in an interview: "Today Speaker Tillis showed real leadership. 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.'"

7 p.m. update: No word on Friday from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger on Tillis' special session request. But Sen. Martin Nesbitt, the minority leader, issued a statement on behalf of Senate Democrats urging Perdue to "take whatever steps you can" as soon as possible.

It reads: "The members of the Democratic Caucus are extremely concerned about the funding issues that will affect the state’s mental health “group homes” and the families that rely on these services. These closures will cause undue suffering and hardship for the families that rely on these services and have very few alternatives.
"We know you share these concerns and would urge you to take whatever steps you can under existing law to provide funding for these most vulnerable citizens of our state to enable them to stay in their group homes.
"If you feel that calling the General l Assembly back into session is necessary to address this critical issue, we would ask that you do so at the earliest possible date so that these families can have some relief.
"We know you share our concerns for these families and want to assure you that we will work with you in any way necessary to resolve this issue."

Here's Tillis' letter:

Special Session Request Letter.pdf

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