NC Speaker: Special session needed to fix funding

Dec. 02, 2012 @ 11:00 AM

In a letter sent to North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, has asked for a special session of the General Assembly.

The special session would be meant to address a funding gap that could affect group and care homes and leave up to 1,400 people without a home.

The issue stems from language in the current state budget that excluded group and care homes from $39 million in federal funding set aside the offset eligibility changes in Medicaid programs for the disabled.

The deadline for the General Assembly to correct the wording is Jan. 1, 2013.

"This can affect a lot of people over the holidays," said Debra Dihoff, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness - NC. "People can lose their homes over the holidays ... can you imagine that?"

In a statement, Tillis said that the House of Representatives have "worked diligently to find solutions to the problem of providing funds to group homes."

"While we continue to work toward long-term solutions, it is time to address the short-term funding issue that could potentially force our most vulnerable citizens out of their homes at the end of this year," Tillis said.

Jordan Shaw, spokesman for Tillis, said that the intent of the original legislation was to use the $39 million to cover expenses for qualified homes through the end of the year.

Now, he said, the key is to fix the language to ensure that the additional funds can be allocated to group and care homes.

"We want to make sure that, on Dec. 31, these folks can stay in their homes," Shaw said.

In the letter to Perdue, Tillis also said that, if a special session is called, the funding question would be the only item addressed. During the 2012 short session, the General Assembly was criticized for overriding a veto from Perdue on an unrelated bill.

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.

"We surveyed our group homes, and we had a good response," Dihoff said. "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."

She said that federal funding can account for up to 33 percent of a group home's overall funding.

In a statement, Perdue said that she was looking at different options, including a special session, to fix the funding situation.

"As a result of the General Assembly’s budget, I have been reviewing all possible options to address this important issue including a Special Session," Perdue said. "I look forward to working with both the House and the Senate to fix the problem as soon as possible so that hundreds of North Carolinians are not out in the street at the end of the year.”

However, Shaw said that the timeframe for that special session is narrow with a Dec. 31, 2012 deadline and the Christmas holiday.

"This is a very simple, easy fix and it's something that needs to be done," Shaw said. "We're open to working with the governor on a timeframe."

Dihoff said that, while groups like NAMI have been concerned over the funding, the request from Tillis for a special session was a step in the right direction.

"We're very concerned, but I have heard very positive things," Dihoff said. "Things are looking good that this can be fixed and this is a very positive development."