Mom's suit against DSHS: 'I'm still fighting, it's the right thing to do'

SEATTLE -- The Pfaff family is among other families at the heart of what could be the biggest DSHS payout in our state's history -- at least $110 million.

It could be big money to taxpayers, but it was also big money to the tens of thousands of families who saw benefits to just some disabled people cut.

Those families wonder how the state could have made what they consider a heartless decision, and they wonder why the state continues to fight a case they have lost over and over again -- particularly since every month of delay is nearly $1 million more in interest.

The Pfaff's daughter Natasha had a disability that was almost invisible at first: A birth defect that left her subject to massive brain hemorrhages. Surgery after surgery couldn't fix the problem, and the brain bleeds took away more and more of Natasha.

"And it was horrible," said her mother Maureen Pfaff. "She lost her colon, she had pancreatitis, she got MRSA pneumonia over and over and over."

Eventually, Natasha couldn't walk or talk or see. In spite of urgings to institutionalize her, Natasha's mother Maureen refused.

"Nobody else can take care of your child like you can," she said.

At 18, the state began paying for Natasha's care. But the family didn't realize the state reduced her benefits by 15 percent just because her mom was her caregiver.

"The people who were being short-changed here were severely disabled folks," said attorney John White.

White says in 2003, DSHS arbitrarily decided to save money by cutting care payments to disabled people who lived with their caregiver -- like Natasha. It affected more than 38,000 people.

"It's not right to balance the state budget on the backs of severely disabled people who aren't able to defend themselves," White said.

After several courtroom losses, DSHS reversed itself. A lower court decided the state owed $95 million to those thousands of families.

But the state hasn't paid and interest keeps piling up. Today, the bill is nearly $110 million.

"After my daughter's passed away, I'm still fighting but... it's the right thing to do," Maureen Pfaff said.

Maureen Pfaff says it's not about money, it's about people.

"Hopefully they will not do something like this again," she said.

DSHS has appealed the award to the State Supreme Court. They've declined an interview but said in a statement emailed to KOMO News: "The judgment in this case is unprecedented and undermines the fiscal planning needed for all DSHS programs" and "is detrimental to the people who rely on funding for DSHS Services."