Crisis for NC group home residents

A special legislative session could forestall the eviction of some group home residents.

November 13, 2012 

The N.C. General Assembly needs to remove the sword hanging over the heads of some 2,000 mentally disabled people living in group homes who could be evicted as of Jan. 1. Basically, these people are innocent bystanders as the state changes rules regarding which residents at facilities that assist the mentally disabled are eligible for help from a special state fund.

At one time, the state’s requirements for disabled people to qualify for federal money (Medicaid) to cover “personal care” such as help with eating and bathing were different for those who were staying in their own home and those in adult care facilities, including group homes. The rules were changed to make the requirements the same.

Previously, those people living independently had to demonstrate a need for several services in order to get the money, whereas those in adult care facilities could get help if they needed just one service, for example.

Making adult care residents demonstrate the same level of need as those at home thus made it harder for those people in adult care to get Medicaid help, which meant the facilities would lose the federal money. That created a crisis which might have left thousands of people with no place to stay. The legislature rightly created a $40 million fund to make up for money that adult care homes would lose.

But caught in a gap were group homes and their residents. The group homes, typically smaller than adult care facilities and in a more residential environment, provide much of the same type of care, although some residents are able to work and demonstrate a level of independence.

However, residents of the group homes who do need personal care were left out of the eligibility pool for some of that $40 million. Thus, as The N&O reported Tuesday, about 2,000 people in group homes may find themselves evicted after Jan. 1, when the state’s rules go into effect. They need the help. They would likely qualify for it if they were at home or in adult care.

Some legislators recognize the need to protect the group home residents, which, it seems would take a matter of minutes in a special session of the General Assembly that could be called by Gov. Beverly Perdue. The issue can’t really wait until the end of January. That would leave a month between the activation of the new rules and the legislature’s first opportunity to give those residents the additional state help they need.

Advocates for the mentally disabled have been trying to figure ways to avoid the risk of eviction for these people, suggesting they file appeals with the state that would delay evictions until lawmakers could act.

A better approach would be for legislators to take action that will provide more security for group home residents, and then, with the time bought, give the state a chance to work out long-term solutions with federal officials.

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