By Gina Macris
U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. is poised to consider a remedial action plan to hasten Rhode Island’s compliance with a two- year-old federal consent decree requiring the state to provide community-based daytime services, including employment supports, to people with developmental disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the state have “jointly determined that, in order to facilitate compliance with the consent decree in this matter, the parties would benefit from a court ordered remedial action plan,” according to a proposed order filed with McConnell in Providence March 1.
The judge is scheduled to hear the status of the case on Monday, March 14 in Providence, although a spokeswoman for the Court indicated March 8 that the hearing date may be rescheduled. (Update: March 14 at 10 a.m. confirmed as date and time)
The proposed Court order, along with a supporting joint motion submitted by the DOJ and the state, spell out a road map for the Court to proceed in considering the facts in the case over the next two months.
In a telephone conference Feb. 24 requested by the state, all sides agreed that three issues stand in the way of full compliance, according to the proposed order. The order and the supporting motion both cite money, the number of integrated, community-based placements, and leadership.
Both sides committed to compliance
"Both Plaintiff and Defendant remain committed to resolving the above listed issues and any other issues identified by the court," according to the joint motion, signed for the DOJ by Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division, and for the state by lawyer Marc DeSisto.
DeSisto and lawyers for the DOJ, as well as a Court monitor in the case, have told McConnell that the state budget does not now have enough money allocated to implement the consent decree. The monitor, Charles Moseley, also has said that if the state does not meet certain benchmarks now, it will not be able to comply with the final requirements of the order once the decade of federal oversight concludes in 2024.
The joint motion and proposed order both call for an evidentiary hearing on April 18 that would require the appearance of the head of the state Office of Management and Budget as well as the directors of three agencies responsible for carrying out the consent decree: the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) of the state Department of Human Services and the state Department of Education (RIDE).
A week before the hearing, the state would provide the judge with a written report on the status of compliance. During the hearing itself, “Defendant will provide the court with the information necessary to issue an order for remedial action to spur prompt compliance,” according to the proposed court order.
The parties would reconvene May 2 so that the state can report on “progress relating to funding, placements, and the leadership required for full compliance,” as well as any other court order that may be outstanding at the time.
The monitor has sought the appointment of a secretary-level Consent Decree Coordinator who would have the authority to oversee compliance efforts of the three state agencies involved. A secretary-level coordinator has been appointed only on an interim basis in recent weeks.
RIDE is involved because it is responsible for providing transitional services, including school-to-work opportunities, for youth in special education as they approach their 21st birthday. These youth are of particular concern, according to the consent decree, because they are “at risk of entering sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs” when they reach adulthood.”
Origins of the Consent Decree
The federal case started with a U.S. Department of Labor investigation into sub-minimum wages paid to people in one sheltered workshop. An expanded DOJ inquiry found that (Cut: found) teenagers and adults with developmental disabilities were being segregated from the general population in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The U.S. Supreme Court clarified the ADA’s mandate for integration in a landmark 1999 decision that many say struck down segregation for people with disabilities in the same sweeping way that Brown V. Board of Education banned “separate but equal” education for black students.
The 2014 consent decree in Rhode Island, the first of its kind in the nation, spells out a series of specific deadlines for achieving an increasing number of supported job placements and individualized daytime activity plans over the 10-year period of federal oversight.
Meanwhile, Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed a net increase of $8 million to the developmental disabilities budget now in place, with the total going from $229.7 million to $237.7 million for the period ending June 30. In the next fiscal year, developmental disabilities would receive a total of $235.2 million.
Over the next 16 months, the governor’s plan would redirect more than $23 million within the developmental disabilities budget toward private agencies providing integrated daytime services. The state would create this financial boost largely by moving people out of group homes into shared living arrangements with families in communities throughout the state.
This housing shift would involve 500 of 1300 people now in group homes moving into so-called shared living arrangements voluntarily by June 30, 2017, according to a BHDDH spokesman.
Donna Martin, who represents an association of private agencies that support families offering shared living in their homes, has called the goal “very ambitious.”