South Dakota lawmakers push review of program for disabled

December 15, 2022

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday readied to order an outside review of a state program meant to assist families caring for those with disabilities after it faced criticism this year from the people it is meant to serve.

Lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee, in the group’s final meeting before the next legislative session starts in January, said they would request approval to hire a consultant to review the program under the Department of Human Services, called Family Support 360. The program provides funding and resources for families that have disabled members.

State lawmakers say the program has the potential to support these families while also saving the state millions of dollars by keeping people out of state-run institutions. But it has faced complaints that it has shortcomings and is not helping the families in need.

“Our family members need these supports to be able to live a good life,” said Brenda Smith, who helps support her adult son Derek.

Smith and others who have family members with disabilities have told the Legislature that they are forced to fill gaps in care themselves due to limitations on the program from the Department of Human Services. They say that the program has a complicated application process, lacks clear communication on what supports are available and that companion care, which provides in-home aides, is limited to only 20 hours a week.

The Department of Human Services has said in multiple legislative hearings that it is working on improvements to the program. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on state lawmakers’ push to order an outside review.

“We’re trying to take away the stress that these families have. There are so many hoops they are going through,” said state Sen. Jack Kolbeck, a Republican who has pushed the Legislature to look into the program.

Kolbeck’s plan for an outside review will need continued support once the new Legislature takes office in January, as well as final approval from the Legislature’s executive board, a committee of top-ranking lawmakers.

Kolbeck said North Dakota recently underwent a similar review of its program, and he hoped the process could give South Dakota’s department ways to improve the program.

In North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Justice in 2020 looked into complaints that alleged the state unnecessarily institutionalizes individuals with disabilities in nursing facilities, instead of providing them with the services they need to live in their communities. It entered a settlement agreement with the state to expand services to individuals with physical disabilities in, or at risk of entering, a nursing facility to allow them to live in their homes.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires states to ensure that people with disabilities receive services in settings appropriate to their needs.