Exclusive: Lawsuit filed against state agencies allege funds - CBS46 News

Exclusive: Lawsuit filed against state agencies allege funds withheld for disabled

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Matt Windham Matt Windham
Tammy Welsh Tammy Welsh
ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

A class action lawsuit was filed Thursday against two state agencies in Georgia. The lawsuit alleges the state withheld hundreds of millions of your tax dollars earmarked for people with severe disabilities, leaving non-profits to deliver the same level of care, but for less compensation.

CBS Atlanta News was the first station to receive a copy of the lawsuit.  

Matt Windham relies on daily interaction at United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia. The 53-year-old has been going to the day program Monday through Friday for more than a decade. And he requires 24 hour one-on-one care.

Tammy Welch moved into a UCP group home, when it opened in 1993.

"She likes to relax. She likes to work on puzzles. Sometime she likes to work on art. It's  important for Tamela to do things she likes doing, and it's about her quality of life," caregiver Tasho Wesley said.

The state waiver system pays for Windham and Welch to live in group homes, and attend day programs during the week, and it covers that for roughly 12,000 other severely disabled people in Georgia.

According to attorney Eric Jon Taylor, the level of compensation non-profits received for that care diminished without warning in 2008.

"No services have been cut. It's just that providers of the services aren't paid, even though the money that was supposed to be paid to them was allocated by the state and federal government," Taylor, partner with Parker, Hudson, Rainer & Dobbs said.

Four non-profits, including United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia and Creative Community Services, plus the families of Windham, Welch, and two others, who represent the thousands like them, filed suit against the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Georgia Department of Community Health for withholding funds. The lawsuit alleges the cuts violated federal and state regulations, as well as contractual obligations.

"How does that work when there's money earmarked for these programs, and it doesn't get to them," reporter Jennifer Mayerle asked Taylor.

"That's a great question, and that's one of the reasons we are going to file this lawsuit, so we can find out in discovery, exactly where the money went. We know it was allocated for my clients, it just didn't get to them," Taylor said. 

"It wears you out. It feels like we are chasing the dollar, which is not what we should be doing," Sally Buchanan, CEO of Creative Community Services, said.

Buchanan started the non-profit 30 years ago. She took drastic measures to keep it afloat.

"We got to the point where we depleted everything, and I actually, I had to go get a personal loan for $150,000, because we have got to do this just to make ends meet ," Buchanan said. 

Curt Harrison, with UCP Georgia, said the non-profit also chose to do more with less.

"We were told by the state we had to provide five days of service, but they would only pay for three," Harrison said.

Harrison said they won't let services slide. He calls it a moral obligation.

"People with disabilities don't do well in isolation. They really thrive in environments where they can experience things," Harrison said.

They want the state to do what they call the right thing, for people like Welch and Windham, and reinstate the funds.

"This is not blaming. This is just let's make things right for folks," Buchanan said.

The parties involved wanted to settle, but said they were forced to move forward, when state wouldn't budge.

The concern of Windham and Welch's aging families is if they weren't notified this time, what will happen the next time when they may no longer be around to be a voice for them.

There has already been some fallout. While the people in the programs are receiving the same level of care, the non-profits said they can't accept anymore people. That means people who need to be, and should be in some of these programs, are being turned away. 

CBS Atlanta News reached out to the two state agencies. A representative for DCH said it does not comment on pending litigation.

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