Group home fix passes House

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 08:39 AM

The North Carolina House passed a bill Thursday that will correct language that threatened funding for mental health group homes.

By a unanimous vote, the House advanced HB 5 which will allow the state to use $39.7 million for group home payments.

"The is the right thing to do," said House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, in a statement. "The House will continue to work towards a permanent solution for this problem."

The funding issue was opened in December 2012 when it was discovered that current language in the state budget excluded group and care homes from $39 million in federal funding set aside the offset eligibility changes in Medicaid programs for the disabled. Initially, the state had until Jan. 1, 2013 to find a solution and, while Tillis asked for a special session of the General Assembly, then-Gov. Bev Perdue elected to use her spending authority to use $1 million to close the gap temporarily.

At the time, the intent of the original legislation was to use the $39 million to cover expenses for qualified homes through the rest of the year, according to Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw in an earlier interview with The Daily Courier.

Debra Dilhoff, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-NC (NAMI) said that, in Rutherford County, there are approximately 23 facilities that serve as group homes for persons with mental illness. The combined capacity of those facilities is 99. Dihoff said that not all of those homes would be immediately impacted if the funding language was not changed, but there could be lasting impacts to all qualified group homes in North Carolina if there is not a fix.

"The most significant question was whether they could stay open and almost all of them said no and it would be within about three months," Dilhoff said.

With the expiration of Perdue's executive order coming Thursday, the House passed the temporary solution to fix the problem until the end of the current fiscal year.

"We have ensured that every group home resident will be protected and their services will continue until a long-term plan is passed," Tillis said.

Once passed by the Senate, the bill will allow payments to continue through the end of the fiscal year, or until the funds are exhausted. That will prompt the General Assembly to find a solution within the 2013 budget.

Tillis said that he was confident a long-term fix could be found by the end of the biennial session.

"We did the right thing by protecting our most vulnerable citizens for the next several months and, by bringing both parties together in the House for the good of our citizens very early in the session," Tillis said.