Advocates for disabled say feds poised to act on alleged Kansas Olmstead violations.
Advocates for the disabled say they believe the federal government is close to taking action against the state of Kansas for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Federal officials for months have been reviewing complaints filed by disabled Kansans and they are scheduled to meet later this week in Kansas City with state officials to discuss the issue and their findings, a step that often precedes federal action.
The disabled consider the ADA a civil rights landmark and a major highlight of the legislative legacy of former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a celebrated Kansas Republican who himself was disabled by grave wounds suffered as an infantryman in World War II.
For years, Kansas had the reputation of being a leader among states in providing services to the disabled, and sometimes was cited in court cases elsewhere in the country as an example of how things should be done.
But since the late 1990s, Kansas has had a growing waiting list for services. And many believe that has put the state at odds with the federal law at a time when the U.S. Justice Department has stepped up its enforcement of the disabilities act.
Since President Obama took office, the U.S. Department of Justice has joined or filed more than 25 lawsuits alleging discrimination against the disabled in 17 states.
In Georgia, the state has had to spend close to $100 million over the past three years on additional services for the disabled as the result of a settlement with the federal government.
“Kansas had better be paying attention,” said Deirdre O’Brien, an advocate of the developmentally disabled in Georgia. “Let me tell you, the Department of Justice isn’t fooling around on this. They’re pretty serious.”
Might Kansas be next?
Seven months ago, U.S. District Attorney Barry Grissom said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was weeks away from citing Kansas for not doing enough to help disabled people live in community settings rather than in institutions.
The state, he said, either would have to expand its network of home- and community-based services or face the likelihood of his office filing a lawsuit in federal court.
“This is a big deal guys,” Grissom said, addressing a July 21, 2011, meeting of the Topeka Human Relations Commission. “It’s a really big deal.”
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