A Cabinet secretary for Gov. Sam Brownback told a legislative committee Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice isn't conducting a formal investigation into Kansas' waiting lists for disability services, though the federal government is looking into complaints.
Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said he couldn't provide specifics of any discussions with federal investigators, citing advice from legal counsel. The federal government has been looking into complaints that the state is violating the civil rights of people on the waiting lists, some for years.
"There are reasons for us to be cautious," Sullivan said.
The waiting lists are for people seeking disability waivers as part of the Medicaid program. The waivers are intended for those who would qualify for institutional care but prefer to stay in their home or community.
Sullivan provided some information on the waiting lists, such as how many people are on them. The disclosures were a reversal of statements made Wednesday by another agency official, Gary Haulmark.
Haulmark refused to discuss anything related to the waiting lists, saying the agency's legal counsel advised him not to.
Advocates have filed complaints based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states must provide services to people with disabilities.
Earlier this year, negotiations broke down between the Brownback administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HHS forwarded the waiting list complaints to the Justice Department.
In a letter to the HHS in April, Brownback blamed the waiting lists on the economic downturn and policies of then governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. He said the state has broadened the criteria for crisis-level services to ensure Kansans in need get help.
Sullivan said the agency also is trying to clean up the waiting lists to determine who still needs services.
He said 4,043 people were waiting for developmentally disabled services and 3,462 people were waiting for physical disability services.
But Sullivan said the state has had trouble contacting many of them. It's likely, he said, that some have moved out of Kansas or no longer need services.
"The state should know who's on the waiting lists," Sullivan said. "The people on the waiting lists should be contacted on a regular basis to see how they are doing."