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Perdue: $1M to keep NC group homes going a month

By By EMERY P. DALESIO

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Beverly Perdue said Tuesday she's moving $1 million within the state budget to keep about 1,400 mentally ill residents of North Carolina group homes from becoming homeless because of a funding cut after this month.

The state constitution limits the ability of a governor to alter the budget, but Perdue cited her authority to react to unforeseen circumstances in moving money to keep group home residents in place through the end of January. The Republican-led General Assembly and incoming Gov. Pat McCrory could then figure out a longer-term fix, the Democratic governor said.

"It does require the Legislature to act quickly when they reconvene," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Al Delia said as a hoarse Perdue stood at his side. The legislature has scheduled a one-day organizing session on Jan. 9 and a full return to work on Jan. 30.

Spokesmen for state Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, did not respond to requests for comment. A top legislative health and human services budget-writer last month suggested Perdue should shift money within the budget to pay for the group home residents to stay.

The short-term money would be used for rental assistance, not for the Medicaid-funded personal care services being eliminated after state budget changes approved last summer, Dehlia said. The money would come from a housing finance program what will be unspent this year, he said.

The issue began when federal Medicaid officials determined the state had not been using the proper criteria to determine who qualifies for monthly checks to cover personal services such as help preparing meals or taking baths. In response, legislators mandated changes under which thousands of people with mental illness living in adult care homes and group homes would no longer qualify for benefits.

Owners of adult care homes, facilities designed for the elderly that the state has relied on for years to house many people with mental illness, said the cuts could force them to shut down. Last summer, legislators added $39.7 million to the state budget to cover the gap from Jan. 1, when the eligibility changes take effect, until the end of the fiscal year June 31.

State Health and Human Services officials also planned to use the money to assist smaller group homes, which can house as few as six or eight residents. But a last-minute change to a technical corrections bill out of the GOP-controlled state Senate mandated that the $39.7 million could be spent on assistance for adult care homes "only," excluding group homes.

Activists for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled worried group homes would fail financially without the reimbursement money for personal care services.

"Over the past few weeks, it has been made clear to me both that this threat is very real and that the General Assembly as a whole was not aware at the time its budget passed that this policy change could result in residents being made homeless," Perdue said in a statement.

Tillis last month asked Perdue to call the General Assembly back to Raleigh to address the group home funding problem, promising lawmakers would consider no other topics during the special legislative session. Perdue decided to act herself on Tuesday. Republicans used a veto override session she called in January 2012 to override one of the governor's earlier vetoes on an unrelated bill.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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