RI Senate Committee Gets a Taste of Complex Federal Consent Decree

Charles Moseley, independent federal Court Monitor, left, and RI. Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston and Warwick, chat after Feb. 25 briefing on federal consent decree requiring community integration of people with developmental disabilities. 


By Gina Macris 

Members of a Senate committee began to grapple with the complexities of a federal court case that has the potential to require the state to allocate millions of dollars to reform its services to Rhode Islanders with disabilities.

For an hour on Feb. 25, The Health and Human Services Committee was briefed about a federal consent decree that requires the state to give those with disabilities a chance to work and do other meaningful activities in the community.

 After the briefing, committee chairman Joshua Miller, D-Cranston and Warwick, said it wasn’t clear to him whether the state agency responsible for services to adults with developmental disabilities needed to reorganize, or whether a greater overall allocation is needed to comply with the consent decree.

“At any point will the decree require minimum funding?” Miller asked Charles Moseley, the independent Court Monitor in the federal case.

 Moseley replied that “the consent decree requires minimum funding now.”

Moseley said the “minimum funding” relates to activities necessary to achieve compliance, like an official to coordinate employment services, so that more people who need supports can get “up and working” in the community.

He gave other examples, saying that the key areas are employment and other meaningful non-work activities.

A. Anthony Antosh, director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, presented statistics which show a smaller percentage of people with developmental disabilities were working in the community in 2015, a year after the consent decree was signed, than were in supported employment in 2011, the year the General Assembly enacted a 13 percent budget cut in services that support them.  

The employment figure decreased from about 23 percent to about 21 percent in four years’ time, according to Antosh’ figures.

“What has increased is the number of people who are essentially doing nothing” during the day, he said.

“Roughly 40 percent are 50 or over, and most of them have very little to do,” Antosh said.

Moseley said that “if the investment is not made now, (the goals) won’t be met in ten years,” the lifespan of the consent decree.

But Moseley did not provide Miller with a dollar amount. 

In a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jan. 26, both Moseley and the lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department, Victoria Thomas, said flatly that the current state budget does not contain enough money to fulfill the requirements of the consent decree.

And a week later, Governor Gina Raimondo made the same categorical statement in her budget message to the General Assembly.

Raimondo’s budget proposal asks for an additional $8 million in in developmental disability funding funding in the current fiscal year, bringing the budget to $237.7 million by June 30. The increase is designed to shore up the developmental disabilities division in the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

In the coming fiscal year, developmental disabilities would receive slightly less, $235.2 million under the governor's plan. However, the administration is proposing a way to sharply increase spending for community-based supports that are required by the consent decree without requesting another budget hike. Instead, the increase would be funded by savings that the administration hopes to achieve through major changes to residential programs, asking 500 adults with disabilities to move voluntarily from expensive group homes into shared living arrangements with families.