Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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February 1, 2009

Sullivan’s Salvos 2/3/09

Johnson County has recently been forced to make some very difficult decisions regarding the services we provide to folks with mental health needs and people with developmental disabilities (MH/DS).

In Iowa, Counties manage the MH/DS system. The Federal government funds about 50% of the system (primarily through Medicaid), the State funds about 20% of the system, and Counties fund about 30%. In all but a couple states, the MH/DS system is a Federal/State system, with no local funding. So Iowa is somewhat unique in this regard.

MH/DS services are also unique in Iowa because they have a dollar cap rather than a levy cap. To illustrate the difference – a capped levy is multiplied by the taxable value of the property; we then pay taxes based upon that formula. If property values go up, even a capped levy rate will generate more revenue. With a dollar cap, the amount of money stays the same over time.

Counties are also limited in that MH/Ds expenses may only be paid from the MH/DS levy; no supplementing is allowed. Similarly, MH/DS funds may not be used for other purposes.

Our dollar cap is right around $14 million. This is only slightly higher than it has been for the past twelve years. So, over the course of twelve years, wages and insurance have gone up, plus we serve a couple hundred more people. Yet we are expected to do so on that same $14 million. In previous years, we have cut corners here and there, and made things work. People have agreed to less service than is ideal, but enough to survive. Unfortunately, this amount of money no longer cuts it.

So, what can Johnson County do? We can ask the Federal government to fund a larger share of the services; we can ask the State to fund a larger share of the services; we can ask the State to allow Counties to move from a dollar cap to a levy cap; or we can cut services.

The Feds have not responded. The State has not responded. So, after consultation with people who use services and people who provide services, Johnson County has decided to implement a waiting list for services. (No official vote has been taken yet, but staff and advisory groups have recommended a waiting list.)

Johnson County is not unique in having a waiting list. About 15 Counties have waiting lists already; by June, that number may be as high as 40 or 50. So people with disabilities and their families are struggling all across our State. And trust me, families DO struggle! It is tremendously challenging to have a family member with a disability.

Assuming Johnson County votes to institute a waiting list (again, there has been no formal vote yet), the waiting list could go into effect as early as April 1. It will almost certainly be in effect by the start of the FY10 fiscal year on July 1.

This is a very sad day indeed. I ran for office for a single reason - to represent the interests of those with less. Few people have less than our fellow citizens with disabilities.

What will happen to people on this waiting list? Good question. Some folks will be fine, as they rely upon the kindness of friends and family. Many will sit idly. Others may go without the medicine they desperately need. Some will go without food and shelter. It is not a pretty situation.

What can you do? Contact your Federal and State representatives. They can fix this. Let them know that asking our most needy citizens to wait for the services they desperately need is simply not OK.

I finished an interesting book recently - A People’s History of Poverty in America by Stephen Pimpare. The book takes a look at things through the eyes of the poor from roughly the Dark Ages through today.

There were several things in this book that struck home with me. I was particularly intrigued by the portions of the book that focus on the way society passes judgment on welfare recipients.

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that throughout history, “Christians” have worried principally about the morals of poor Americans, much the opposite of the example set by Christ himself. Meanwhile, poor Americans have been more concerned with securing food and shelter.

As the book also points out, instead of placing the blame for ghettos on the inhabitants, we might better blame those with the political and economic power to improve the situation.

I hear from too many people who believe the only worth an individual has is the amount he pays in property taxes. I disagree.

Pimpare created a very thought-provoking work – I recommend it to anyone interested in history, social services, public policy, or all three.

DID YOU KNOW? Johnson County’s free tax help program (You Earned It, Now Claim It!) brought in an additional $600,000 in returns into Johnson County in 2008.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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