Perdue Mum On Special Session For Group Homes
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Gov. Beverly Perdue and legislative leaders remain stuck over how to ensure about 2,000 people with mental illness or developmental disabilities in North Carolina have a place to live when Medicaid rules change in a few weeks.
Perdue has yet to announce whether she intends to call the General Assembly back to Raleigh for a special session this month so lawmakers can formally locate funds to assist group homes whose residents have benefited from Medicaid coverage for personal care services. The residents will no longer qualify for the services Jan. 1, putting group homes that rely on such Medicaid funds at risk of closing.
Federal regulators pushed the changes to ensure the same personal care eligibility standards exist for people no matter where they live, instead of having rules that may steer people toward institutional care.
House Speaker Thom Tillis asked Perdue in a Nov. 30 letter to hold the session, but a Perdue spokeswoman said Friday that the outgoing Democratic governor still hasn't decided what to do. Perdue recently vowed to make sure none of the adult care home residents are put out on the streets come January.
"The governor is working with her staff to review all available legal options including calling a special session to fix the funding problem for residents in group homes," said Chris Mackey, the spokeswoman.
Perdue said last month she was handcuffed by state law in shifting money to resolve the problem herself.
Budget changes approved last summer set aside $39.7 million to help only adult care homes with similar issues involving Medicaid reimbursements for personal care services, which include help for people with preparing meals or taking baths. The smaller group homes, which often hold six to eight residents, were not identified in the bill text as qualified recipients of the money.
About 1,400 people with mental illness living in group homes could be affected next month. There are also at least 600 people with developmental disabilities living in group homes who are at risk, according to The Arc of North Carolina.
Tillis "remains committed to fixing this problem, and we're hopeful that the governor will convene a special session," Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw wrote in an email. "We will continue to work closely with the governor's office if and when a session is called."
Silent on the special session issue has been Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. His office didn't react publicly to Tillis' letter last week and offered no comment Friday when requested. The relationship between Berger and Perdue has been increasingly frayed in recent weeks after the Senate leader criticized Perdue sharply on unrelated activities.
Emails between a state official and a key GOP legislator's office indicates the lawmaker was informed about the potential problem with group homes before this year's legislative session adjourned in early July.
Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham and the incoming House minority leader, said he didn't want a costly special session. Republican legislative leaders could work out some agreement with Perdue to fix the problem without calling back the entire Legislature, he said.
"We don't need a special session if they're going to cooperate," Hall said this week. "It could be declared an emergency, and let the governor deal with it ... as opposed to going to court or having some other kind of effort against her for solving this problem."
Generally speaking, the North Carolina Constitution prevents Perdue from moving around money within an approved budget unless overall revenues are falling short of budgeted expenses, said Michael Crowell, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Government.
State law also allows an agency to spend more than budgeted if it's required by a court order.
Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, told Perdue no other topics would be considered during the special session. Republicans used a veto override session she called in January 2012 to override another unrelated bill late at night, to the anger of Democrats.
"Certainly, we're a little bit guarded about the idea," Hall said.
Ann Akland, spokeswoman for the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said lawyers whom her group has talked with haven't found any options beyond the governor calling the Legislature back to work. Akland is anxious about the delay on a decision with the days in December dwindling. Scheduling a session may more difficult with the approaching holidays.
"I'm really worried that people are going to be without homes if the governor is not taking action," Akland said.