Feds join in suit against DHHS
Posted December 24, 2009 10:38 a.m. EST
Updated December 28, 2009 2:07 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — The federal Justice Department filed a brief Wednesday in support of a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina.
The government versus government case turns on proposed cuts to mental health services in the state.
Disability Rights North Carolina filed suit Dec. 12, naming as defendants the Secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler and the Beacon Center, a mental health facility in Rocky Mount.
The suit alleges that two individuals, identified as Durwood W. and Marlo M., will lose the state and federal services that allow them to live independently.
The Justice Department's brief backs the pair's efforts to block the state from making major reductions in services offered to them and others in similar situations.
Earlier this year, lawmakers cut DHHS funding by approximately $1.7 billion to help close a $4.6 billion state budget gap. Those cuts were later offset by about $15 million.
About $65 million to $75 million of the department's $390 million community services budget was cut. Mental health advocates have said that cuts in Medicaid pushed the total reduction to about $500 million.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division cited a Supreme Court ruling requiring states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to move support those who can live in the community (Olmstead v. L.C.).
The plaintiffs argue that cuts to state services have the potential to limit their ability to live independently and could force them into an institutional setting.
"By supporting the plaintiffs in this case, we seek to ensure that the civil rights of individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities in North Carolina are protected," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "North Carolina has provided critical services to disabled individuals with significant needs, allowing them to fully participate in their communities. Now cuts to these services threaten to take this away at a cost to the plaintiffs and the state."
The Justice Department has filed similar briefs in Florida, Connecticut, Virginia and New York.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday in Raleigh.