- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A dispute between the two entities responsible for providing services to Southwest Idaho seniors and vulnerable adults erupted last month, with the state having to defend itself in court and a local nonprofit organization losing a significant source of income.

The nonprofit Idaho Council of Governments has sued the state Commission on Aging and its director, Sam Haws, in federal court, alleging that the state’s funding formula discriminates against nonminority seniors living in urban areas. The council manages the Area Agency on Aging, which the state commission contracts with to provide such services as home-delivered meals, respite care for caretakers, and an ombudsman who looks into complaints regarding long-term care or assisted living facilities.

The Commission on Aging has stated that it will not renew the Area Agency on Aging’s contract, which expires at the end of the month, because of “serious deficiencies.” The nonprofit organization received $3 million this year via the state contract - nearly its entire operating budget. When that funding ends, the agency will have to close and its 25 employees will be out of a job, according to director Sarah Scott. But more disconcerting, said Scott, is that the region’s most vulnerable adults will be put at risk.

The two entities began sparring shortly after Gov. Butch Otter appointed Haws as commission director in 2011. The Idaho Council of Governments claims that the state commission’s new policies and procedures don’t follow existing laws and rules; the commission counters that the service provider is not complying with its policies and guidelines.

WHAT’S THE LAWSUIT ABOUT?

The state is divided into six service areas for seniors. Each receives funding based on a per-senior formula. According to the suit, the per-senior allocations in five of the service areas range from $32.98 to $43.58. The per-senior allocation in the most populous service area, Southwest Idaho, is $27.93 per person.

The lawsuit contends that the state’s funding formula is flawed because no money is allocated for disabled seniors or white seniors living in urban areas who do not live alone and have a household income of more than $15,730.

“In contrast, funding is allocated for minority persons living under exactly the same circumstances,” stated attorney David Leroy in the complaint.

The state’s actions “are racially discriminatory, arbitrary, capricious, constitute an abuse of direction, and fail to meet statutory, procedural and constitutional requirements,” according to court documents. As a result, older residents of the Southwest Idaho district are “not provided with an equal opportunity” for senior services.

The lawsuit asks the judge for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the Commission on Aging from allocating funds under the current formula.

The governor’s office and Haws would not comment on the lawsuit.

MORE ABOUT THE PLAYERS

The Idaho Council of Governments is a nonprofit economic and community development organization (formerly Sage Community Resources) that serves as an umbrella for several regional nonprofit agencies: the Area Agency on Aging Serving Southwest Idaho, the Economic Development District Region III and the Idaho Hunger Task Force. Its board comprises city, county and state officials from 10 Southwest Idaho counties.

The Idaho Commission on Aging is the state agency that coordinates various services for seniors, including transportation, nutrition and in-home care. The agency, housed under the Office of the Governor, has 14 employees and a $13 million annual budget. The governor appoints the agency’s seven board members and its director.

WHAT’S THE DISPUTE?

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