Local Politics

Advocates for disabled vow to sue over budget cuts

Posted June 23, 2009 4:35 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2009 7:02 p.m. EDT

State budget

— An advocacy group for disabled North Carolina residents on Tuesday threatened to sue the state if lawmakers incorporate proposed cuts to human services programs into the state budget.

The Department of Health and Human Services could lose about $1 billion as lawmakers struggle to erase a projected $4.6 billion budget deficit. The cuts include home health workers and support for organizations that provide community-based care for people with mental and physical disabilities and the elderly.

Disability Rights North Carolina contends some cuts would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Medicaid regulations, and they are gearing up for a legal battle if the cuts pass the General Assembly.

House and Senate negotiators are trying to reconcile the budgets they approved separately in recent months and approve a compromise two-year spending plan before the new fiscal year starts on July 1.

"It's a violation of (people's) rights. It's morally reprehensible," said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina.

The group's board on Friday approved shifting all available money and tapping a reserve fund to challenge the proposed cuts in court.

"Individuals with disabilities have the right to live independently in their community" under federal law, Smith said.

She estimated that the proposed DHHS cuts could violate the rights of more than 50,000 children and adults.

Clyde Goodwin, 53, said he fears winding up in a state-run nursing home. A car crash 32 years ago left him paralyzed from the chest down, and he requires round-the-clock care to help him eat, bathe and get out of bed at home.

"Anything less than this, I really don't want to think about," Goodwin said, adding that losing his home health aide "would just change my whole quality of life, my whole outlook on life."

Even without the threat of a lawsuit, lawmakers said they face difficult choices as they try to craft a budget in a down economy.

"You either have to cut or raise revenue, so that's the situation we're in right now," said Sen. William Purcell, D-Scotland.