NC House leader calls for special session

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis asked Gov. Beverly Perdue on Friday to call a special legislative session before the end of the year to fix a budget gap that could cause about 1,400 people with mental illnesses to lose their homes.

The crisis was triggered in July when the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a one-word tweak to the state budget that excluded group homes from a nearly $40 million fund intended to cushion the effects of Medicaid eligibility changes for programs for the disabled.

Advocates for people with mental illness worry that scores of group-home residents will be dumped on the streets in the middle of winter. GOP leaders and the Democratic governor had disagreed about how to solve the problem before a Jan. 1 deadline.

"We have worked diligently to find solutions to the problem of providing funds to group homes for mental health patients under new Federal guidelines," said Tills (R-Mecklenburg). "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."

The move comes five days after The Associated Press reported on a series of emails showing a top Republican budget writer and his staff had been informed about the potential problem in June, days before their approval of the bill that created the funding gap. In recent months, Republicans including Gov.-elect Pat McCrory has sought to pin the blame on the Perdue administration.

In his letter to Perdue, Tillis pledges not to try to take up any issues other than group-home funding during the special session. Earlier this year, Republican leaders were heavily criticized for using a special session to override one of the Democratic governor's vetoes on an unrelated bill.

Ann Akland, spokeswoman for the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, expressed relief Friday that a special session could be held in time to keep the 1,400 residents in their group homes after the holidays.

"I am so grateful both sides have decided to come together and work this out," Akland said. "If you don't have a home, you don't really have anything."

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