A State Agency Under Federal Investigation

Sep 23, 2013

The State Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services is officially under investigation by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights over the state's Auxiliary Grant program, which funds services mostly for people with disabilities and physical or mental impairments. At issue is whether or not the program's policies are discriminatory and place unnecessary restrictions on where individuals may live in order to receive the grant funds.

In May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Virginia and another organization filed a complaint—NOT a lawsuit—about the state’s Auxiliary Grant program. Mira Signer with NAMI Virginia says a Supreme Court case known as "Olmstead" AND the Americans with Disabilities Act state that people with disabilities have the right to be treated in the least restrictive environment. But she says the state grant regulations impose improper limitations.

"So we feel that this very narrow way that Virginia's Auxiliary Grant Program is delivered--in other words only being usable in an assisted living facility or adult foster care home violates the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead."

She says neither state nor federal law requires those restrictions.  Since the complaint was filed, the Office of Civil Rights has required DARS to respond to a questionnaire by September 30th. Signer says the hope is that Virginia will restructure and expand the program to more housing environments—allowing people to live closer to family, friends, and possible employment opportunities.