- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A class-action lawsuit accuses the state of discriminating against Minnesota residents with disabilities by forcing them to live in segregated group homes.

The lawsuit filed by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid alleges the Department of Human Services funnels individuals with disabilities into nearly 3,500 group homes statewide, depriving them access to more independent living arrangements. The suit claims that move violates a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires states to ensure that people with disabilities receive services in integrated settings.

“People are stuck in these facilities, where they experience isolation, lack of control and an overall helplessness,” said Legal Aid attorney Sean Burke. “It’s no longer good enough.”

A Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/2aPRC3J ) investigation last year found that many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are capable of taking care of themselves are sent to group homes against their will. Some are placed more than 100 miles from their families in settings that leave them isolated from friends, relatives and support networks, the investigation found. The homes are indirectly subsidized through Medicaid, the state and federal health insurance program, which covers the cost of their services.

One of the plaintiffs, Marrie Bottelson, 41, has cerebral palsy and has lived in a group home for 13 years. As an artist, Bottelson would like to create a studio in her own home.

“This is a person who could really be flourishing if she could actually have an apartment and an art studio,” said Justin Perl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s litigation director.

Bottelson has asked to move into an apartment with a friend, but says she has been told by her case managers there are no options other than her group home.

In a statement Thursday, state Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said residents with disabilities “should have choices about where they live.”

She said the state’s plan for implementing the Supreme Court ruling “is our path forward to increase opportunities for Minnesotans living with disabilities to live, work and succeed in our state in the most integrated setting possible.”

In 2015, Minnesota became one of the last states to adopt a plan to expand housing options for people with disabilities, according to the Star Tribune.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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