By Gina Macris
The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking penalties of up to $1 million a year from the State of Rhode Island if it does not move immediately to provide the job-related support services and day community programs for adults with developmental disabilities like it promised two years ago.
Employment-related services are at the heart of a 2014 consent decree in which the state agreed to shift away from reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day programs and instead move toward integrating adults with developmental disabilities into the larger community.
After two years of“failed outcomes and missed deadlines,” the state has shown that “compliance in this case requires accountability measures, not just deadlines,” according to a proposed order drafted by DOJ lawyers for the review of U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr.
In response, Marc DeSisto, lawyer for the state, called the DOJ order a “pre-determined contempt sanction ” that denies the state procedural safeguards, including a provision in the consent decree that allows the state to show it put forth its“best efforts,” but failed to comply because of factors beyond its control.
The state did present evidence of its efforts in a hearing April 8. The DOJ argued in its request for sanctions that the “hearing revealed– and the state admitted – that it has only been through this Court’s continued attention and involvement that the state has taken any real steps toward compliance.”
The Justice department lawyers said the financial sanctions will “facilitate compliance” by addressing a barrier the state itself has identified – lack of funding.
Without the Consent Decree Compliance Fund to provide “consequences for violations, the proposed order could end up being just another plan that the state fails to implement.” according to the DOJ filing.
The judge has not yet responded to the DOJ proposal, submitted May 6, and DeSisto’s response, filed May. 12.
McConnell made it clear from the bench just two weeks ago, however, that he would take “swift and dramatic” action to enforce compliance, holding the state responsible without distinguishing between the Governor and the General Assembly.
The General Assembly is heading into final budget deliberations during the next three to four weeks. The May Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference has projected that the state will have $47.5 million more in revenue than Governor Gina Raimondo counted on in February, when she submitted a combined $9-billion fiscal plan for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next one.
It remains unclear how much money the state needs to correct a structural deficit in the developmental disabilities budget and keep pace with the requirements of the consent decree during the next fiscal year.
Raimondo has proposed an additional $24.1 million for developmental disabilities through June, 30, 2017, with $19.3 million of that total coming from reductions in residential costs. So far, very little of those savings have materialized, according to information the state Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) provided to the Senate Finance Committee about three weeks ago.
The savings depend on voluntary moves by some 300 group home residents into shared living arrangements with families throughout the state. Shared living has been available in Rhode Island for about 10 years, with 267 individuals taking that option at the end of the last fiscal year..Since July 1, 2015, the number of shared living arrangements has increased by 21, .according to the most recent figures made public by BHDDH.
Even if the added $24.1 million can be assured and the General Assembly approves Raimondo’s request, it is not clear whether that sum would be enough to satisfy the requirements of the proposed court order
Neither the latest DOJ filing nor the consent decree itself puts a number on the cost. The decree says only that its requirements will be “fully funded.”
The proposed order takes a highly prescriptive approach, setting out a series of detailed benchmarks and deadlines for the remainder of the year, most of them during the next six weeks.
The DOJ’s proposal was signed by Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division, and other officials, including trial attorneys Nicole Kovite Zeitler and Victoria Thomas.
For each goal the state fails to achieve on time, it would be required to contribute to the Consent Decree Compliance Fund at a rate of $5,000 a day for as long as it remains in violation. In addition, the state would be required to pay $100 a day for each person affected by the consent decree “whose employment or integrated day services are delayed or interrupted as a result of violation of this order,” according to the DOJ’s language.
At the evidentiary hearing April 8, there was much testimony about individuals aged 18 to 21 with developmental disabilities whose whose applications for adult services languish until shortly before they turn 21, leaving insufficient time to put a good program of adult services together. When BHDDH finally determines that the young adults are eligible for funding, they often go from the routine of a busy school day to sitting at home doing nothing, according to testimony.
Finding appropriate services from a private provider is a a challenge for families. Agencies routinely refuse new clients because BHDDH does not them the full cost of providing the necessary supports.
If the proposed order is accepted by the federal court, the court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, would oversee compliance and determine the amount due to the Compliance Fund. The monitor, in consultation with the DOJ and the state, also would decide how the money would be used to “fund consent decree activities that directly benefit target population members,” according to the DOJ’s filing.
DeSisto, in his response for the state, argues that the proposal improperly delegates the authority decide individual fines to the monitor, when it should be the prerogative of the Court. As proposed, he said, the state would only be able to appeal after a penalty has been assessed.
The corrective action topics and corresponding deadlines:
Tools For Verifying Compliance
May 30: The state would report to the DOJ its progress in developing a continually updated or “live” database that would allow federal officials to see how money is spent on required services for each person affected by the consent decree – at least 3400 people.
- June 30: The state would provide federal officials access to the database or a list of entries from which the judge, the monitor, and the DOJ could select to verify compliance.
- July 5: The monitor would give the state the list of records federal officials se;ect for verifying compliance.
- July 12: The state would turn over the records the federal officials sought. For example, federal officials would seek to determine whether all young adults who left school during the 2015-2016 school year had supported employment placements in the community by July 1, as required by the consent decree.
Funding Employment-Related Services
- July 1: The state would implement a new model for reimbursing service providers that is flexible enough to cover the costs they incur. The current reimbursement system pays only for the time that workers spend in face-to-face contact with clients but not other activities like seeking out potential employers.
- July 1: In funding an array of services for a particular consumer, BHDDH would earmark some funds for supported employment. Currently consumers must give up something else to get employment-related services.
- July 1: The state would “appropriately increase salaries, benefits, training, and supervision for employees of private agencies who work directly with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities
- July 1: The state would implement at least some performance-based contracts with service providers that link funding to numerical targets and implementation timelines for “quality” job placements.
- Dec. 31: The state would show evidence that all service providers have signed performance-based contracts.
- Dec. 31: The state would file with the court examples of weekly activity plans used by each provider of community-based day services that has received additional funding for those supports required by the consent decree.
Assessment of Individual Need and Funding
June 1: BHDDH would amend its policy for determining an invidual’s need for services and supports to make it clear that this assessment process, called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), remains separate and apart from considerations of individual funding levels.
- June 30: BHDDH would file with the court agendas or meeting minutes that demonstrate that all SIS interviewers have been trained in the change to the policy.
CAREER DEVELOPMENT PLANNING
- June 1: The state would finalize a plan for ensuring that representatives of BHDDH and the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the state Department of Human Services (ORS) consistently attend annual educational planning meetings for high school students with developmental disabilities, with an eye toward their transition to adult services
- June 30: BHDDH, ORS and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) must implement ongoing training in the use of career development plans and must provide ongoing supervision to ensure that the plans are utilized as envisioned by the consent decree
- June 30: RIDE must train all school census clerks to accurately report the number of career development plans in place
- June 30: The state would hire a Program Developer and Employment Specialist
- June 1: The state would finalize a detailed communications plan in which some information is disseminated to the public and other information is sought from the community.
June 1: The state would finalize a detailed project management plan for consent decree activities, showing the respective responsibilities of BHDDH, RIDE and ORS.
- June 1: The state would finalize a similar plan for engaging with individuals moving from school life to adult services, with the roles of each of the three agencies delineated.
The proposed order also requires the state to catch up with back pay it owes the court monitor, Moseley, and the state’s consent decree coordinator, Mary M. Madden, and to pay them on time in the future.
At the April 8 hearing, Madden said she had not been paid since she was hired in January. At the same time, Moseley, who began the job late in 2014, said he had received his first check at the end of March, 2016.