Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion last week in federal court to enforce a 2012 settlement agreement with the state of North Carolina, alleging it failed to comply with requirements by not providing enough community-based housing to adults with serious mental illnesses.
The agreement required the state to provide 1,166 community-based supportive housing slots for adult Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illness by July 1, yet only 650 individuals occupied those housing slots on June 30, the court document states. The agreement also required the state to provide supported employment services to 1,166 individuals by the same date but only 708 were receiving such services on June 30.
The agreement was struck to prevent a costly lawsuit after a DOJ investigation found North Carolina was segregating its mentally ill population into adult care homes rather than providing them with integrative community services, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
There has been a dispute between the state and the feds about the interpretation of filling a housing slot and providing supported employment services. In the documents filed last week, the U.S. contends that “under its interpretation, [North Carolina] could claim compliance even if no one occupies a Housing Slot at the conclusion of the Agreement. Similarly, the State could claim compliance even if no one in the target population receives Supported Employment Services.”
The State’s new interpretations run contrary to the terms of the Agreement and the parties’ intent. The only reasonable interpretation of the housing provisions requires the State to count only individuals residing in permanent supported housing. And the only reasonable interpretation of the employment services provisions requires the State to serve individuals in the target population. Moreover, the State’s conduct prior to this dispute belies the validity of its new interpretations. During the first several years of implementation, the State reported on compliance by counting only occupied Housing Slots and by counting only individuals in the target population receiving Supported Employment Services.
The U.S. has asked the court to find North Carolina non-compliant and to order a schedule of monthly obligations to bring it back into compliance by a set date.
A schedule of monthly obligations is warranted because, based on past performance, it is highly unlikely that the State could comply with its July 2016 housing and employment services obligations immediately or even within thirty days. Instead, requiring the State to meet its July 2016 obligations under a schedule of monthly obligations will increase the likelihood that the State will comply with its July 2016 obligations in a timely manner and be fully compliant at the Agreement’s conclusion, scheduled for 2020.