House Appropriations Committee – Human Resources Division
Testimony on House Bill 1012
Representative Jeff Delzer – Chairman
January 20, 2005

Chairman Delzer and members of the House Appropriations Committee – Human Resources Division, good morning. My name is Donna Byzewski and I am supervisor of the corporate guardianship program at Catholic Charities North Dakota. I am respectfully asking your committee to approve funding for petitioning costs so people with developmental disabilities can receive needed guardianship services. I would like to provide some brief background information to clarify the issue.

The corporate guardianship program at Catholic Charities North Dakota (CCND) is very grateful to the 2003 Legislature because it approved an increase in the number of wards who could be served. This action completely eliminated a long waiting list. From 7/1/03 to 1/12/05, forty-four (44) people with developmental disabilities have been admitted to CCND’s corporate guardianship program: forty-two (42) people who live in the community; and two (2) who reside at the Developmental Center in Grafton. We currently provide services on behalf of 358 people (324 in the community and 34 at the Developmental Center). The legislature also approved an increase in the rate for corporate guardianship services for people with developmental disabilities to $3.92 per ward/per day. This was the first rate increase that corporate guardianship received since 1995 and it was based on the cost of services in 2001. Our current cost of service is $4.60 but because of United Way allocations, collection of allowable guardianship fees through the North Dakota Medicaid Program and our Golf for Guardianship fundraiser, CCND is able to offset the costs that are not covered by our contract with the Disability Services Division of the Department of Human Services (DHS). Again, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to legislators as their decision to increase the number of people who could be served and the increase in the daily rate has had a direct and positive impact on the lives of many people who were at risk of harm. The support and protection of a guardian helps ensure that each person will receive services in the least restrictive environment and that his or her health and safety needs are met.

Unfortunately, it was not realized until the end of the 2003 Legislature that emergency funding was not included in the DHS budget and historically this has been the source of funding for petitioning costs for indigent people with developmental disabilities. In order to establish a guardianship, a petition must be filed with the court and a hearing must be held to hear evidence. This process involves the services of two attorneys (the petitioning attorney and a guardian ad litem), a court visitor and a physician or psychologist. Petitioning expenses range from $300 for an uncontested successor guardianship to $850 or more for the establishment of a new guardianship. In response to this serious problem, CCND set aside $15,000 from our Golf for Guardianship fundraiser for fiscal year 2003 and the same amount for fiscal year 2004. From 7/1/03 to 1/12/05, CCND has spent $16,451 to pay for a portion or all of the petitioning costs for thirty-six (36) wards.

In July 2003, CCND made a choice to respond to the needs of the many vulnerable people who were on our long waiting list. It became clear that a number of people who were accepted into our program would not be able to access our services because they could not afford to pay the petitioning costs. CCND stepped up to the plate and did the right thing. However, this cannot be a long-term solution. There may come a time in the near future that the funds that CCND designated towards petitioning costs must be used to help finance the difference between our actual cost of service ($4.60) and the daily rate from our contract with DHS ($3.92).

Today, I am requesting that an appropriation in the amount of $30,000 be made available to ensure that each person who needs corporate guardianship services will receive it. It would be very distressing if a person with developmental disabilities cannot receive corporate guardianship services and consequently remain at risk because he or she is indigent. I would welcome any questions that you may have. Thank you.