By Gina Macris
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo on Tuesday proposed unprecedented increases in spending to expand community-based services for people with developmental disabilities over the next 18 months.
At the same time, Raimondo would offset much of the increased cost of services by shifting residents from expensive group home care to shared living arrangements involving individual families throughout the state, an approach that already is controversial among relatives of people with developmental disabilities.
The governor’s plan covers both the current fiscal year, ending June 30, and the next one.
An additional $11.3 million in the current budget would go to a network of private providers, which forms the backbone of services for adults with disabilities. Those agencies, which have received shrinking reimbursements for the last several years, would get another $12.2 million in the next budget, which begins July 1.
The dollar figures reflect combined federal and state revenue at roughly one-to-one ratios.
Raimondo delivered her written budget proposal to a joint session of the Rhode Island General Assembly.
Her combined state-of-the state and budget address did not mention people with developmental disabilities, but the written message acknowledged that the current allocation to the private agencies does not include enough money for them to provide adequate services to this population.
Besides direct hikes to the providers, Raimondo would earmark an extra $1.9 million in the next fiscal year for innovative programs to comply with a 2014 statewide consent decree with the Department of Justice requiring more integrated employment and daytime activities for people with intellectual challenges.
Her 2017 budget also would provide $5.8 million for meeting the needs of an expanding caseload in the Division of Developmental Disabilities..
And there would be a 45 cent-per-hour increase next year for employees of private agencies who work directly with clients, a hike that is expected to cost an overall $5.1 million.
The wage increase is geared to helping providers better retain current employees and attract more highly skilled workers to support those facing intellectual challenges in jobs in their communities.
The fiscal strategy over the next 18 months is banking on big savings from moving people out of group homes into shared living arrangements.
Raimondo projects a $3.1 million cut in group home expenses before the current budget period ends June 30 and an additional $16.2 million in savings in that line item in fiscal year 2016-2017.
Maria Montanaro, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), testified in January before the House Finance Committee that she hoped to put a $3.7 million dent in a $6 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year by moving as many as 300 people out of group homes into shared living arrangements by the end of March. About 1,300 people now live in group homes.
But the negative reaction from family members – one has started a petition against the shift – was enough for her to issue a statement emphasizing that changes in housing are voluntary .Many group home residents do not have close relatives or legal guardians to help them decide whether to move.
Montanaro’s statement, posted on the BHDDH website, also sought to reassure families about the safety and benefits of shared living arrangements. She said there are 276 people in shared living arrangements now and “as the individuals will attest, they are very happy and living a more independent life.”
Apart from the reduction in group home expenditures, there would be several million dollars’ savings in other categories of spending on behalf of people with developmental disabilities.
All together, the budget hikes and the offsets would result in a net increase of $8 million to the current developmental disabilities budget – from $229.7 million to $237.7 million,
In the next fiscal year, the division would receive $235.2 million. Developmental disabilities gets slightly more than 60 percent of the entire BHDDH budget.