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Legislation is sought to save funds for disabled individuals

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County is fighting for special legislation to restore funding for individuals with disabilities that was eliminated through Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment process.

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If the legislation fails, the negative effects could be felt for generations, said Tamara Goldenstein, Kandiyohi County family service supervisor.

Sen. Joe Gimse and Rep. Al Juhnke are trying to get the legislation passed through committees this week to meet deadlines, said Goldenstein, who testified before a House committee last week.

She said Thursday that Gimse is making good progress moving the bill through the Senate.

The $700,000 unallotment -- the governor's power to cut expenditures -- of the "variable rates" for intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities affects counties throughout the state. Kandiyohi County, however, is the only county that's seeking statewide legislative intervention.

The bill asks to restore the entire $700,000 cut from all the state's facilities that receive variable rates for providing 24-hour care to high-need individuals with disabilities.

If that fails, local legislators are prepared to ask for $87,000 to restore funding for four women who live at the nursing-home type facility in Atwater, said Goldenstein.

And if that fails, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners have approved a back-up plan that would ensure the continued care of the women in Atwater through a waiver program.

But that action would eliminate six of the county's high-level care beds forever.

Since the county has only 12 such beds remaining after de-institutionalization, county officials are fearful there won't be enough beds and services available in the future when clients are no longer able to live with their parents or live independently.

The ironic thing about an unallotment that was supposed to save the state money, said Goldenstein, is that the state will actually incur greater costs in the future because waiver programs for high-need individuals cost more than the variable rates for these intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities.

A 2009 legislative report recommended variable rates be expanded as a cost-saving measure, which is why the unallotment of the variable rates "caught a lot of people by surprise," said Goldenstein.

Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft, said this aspect of the unallotment wasn't discovered until recently, resulting in the last-minute legislative appeal.

But because it affects "just a handful of folks," said Kieft, "we don't have a big loud voice."

To understand the complex issue, a bit of background is helpful, said Goldenstein.

People in this type of intermediate care facility, like the four women in Atwater, require a high level of care, in part because they're getting older.

In 2006 the state determined the per diem it was paying to Presbyterian Family Foundation, a Willmar-based organization that owns and operates the home in Atwater, was too low.

A variable rate was adopted that reflects actual care provided to each individual. The unallotment took that variable rate away.

Presbyterian Family Foundation has told the county it cannot afford to provide the care at the Atwater home, which employs 15 people, without the added revenue.

The women want to stay in Atwater, said Catherine Johnson, director of Presbyterian Family Foundation. The home is located across the street from the Developmental Achievement Center where they work.

If the state funding isn't restored through legislation, the county is prepared to close the current license of the six-bed Atwater facility -- as an intermediate care facility for individuals with developmental disabilities -- and reopen it as a four-bed foster home funded with "waivers."

Foster homes for clients with waivers are limited to four beds.

If that happens, however, Kandiyohi County will permanently lose half of its beds that are designated to intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities.

"It's a huge loss to a county entity and that's why we're fighting so hard to keep it," said Goldenstein, comparing the impact to closing nursing homes in a community.

On top of that, said Goldenstein, transferring high-need individuals to a waiver program will cost two to three times more than the intermediate care facility in Atwater.

The permanent loss of those six beds will also affect individuals with disabilities who have recently graduated from the school system and are looking for housing and services funded with a waiver program, said Goldenstein.

There are currently 12 to 13 people on a waiting list and Kandiyohi County only gets one new waiver each year.

"It's really sad this kind of consequence can happen with an unallotment," said Goldenstein, adding that the clients, the community and taxpayers will all be negatively affected.

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West Central Tribune (320) 235-6769 customer support
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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