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Feds investigate Kansas disabled programs


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing complaints about possible civil rights violations arising from long waits for physically disabled Kansans seeking state services.

The Lawrence Journal World reports (http://bit.ly/JmQ1gw ) that the federal Office of Civil Rights unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a voluntary settlement with Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.

At issue is whether Kansas is doing enough to provide services to disabled residents who in some cases have been on waiting lists for three years. A U.S. Supreme Court decision requires states to provide services to people with disabilities.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office for Kansas are meeting with the Department of Justice to consider further action.

Brownback's office did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Frank Campbell, regional manager for the Office of Civil Rights, sent a letter to advocates who filed the complaints for the disabled to inform them that negotiations with the state failed to produce a voluntary resolution of the complaints.

"Based on that determination, we have decided to refer our ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance review to the Department of Justice for further investigation and proceedings," Campbell wrote.

U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom's office said in a statement that an agreement sought to provide assurances that Kansas residents with physical disabilities would have access to services to stay in their communities and not wind up in state hospitals.

"The government's goal was to protect the rights of the physically disabled and at the same time to seek a cost-effective solution and to avoid litigation," Grissom said. "Unfortunately those negotiations were not successful."

Advocates for the disabled said Kansas would be better served to put money into services instead of legal fees to contest the federal government.

"We are going to spend more money on a lawsuit with the federal government instead of spending it on people waiting for services for three years. It just makes me sick to my stomach," said Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas.

She said the waiting list could be eliminated by increasing state spending by $33 million, though advocates are willing to compromise and cut the waiting list down to no more than a year's wait.

Approximately 3,500 people with physical disabilities are waiting for services, while another 3,900 developmentally disabled on another list for other services.

Democratic legislators said the solution is to use the state's growing reserves to meet the need for services.

"At a time when we have $500 million in the bank, it is very difficult for us to look at people who are on a waiting list and say, we don't have the ability to help you," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.