By Gina Macris
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed adding nearly $16.9 million in state and federal revenue funds during the next fiscal year to shore up the state’s developmental disability system, which is under a federal court order to expand participation of adults with intellectual challenges in work and leisure activities in their communities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The addition of these funds, in four disability-related categories, will be heard by the House Finance Committee May 26, along with dozens of other proposed amendments Raimondo submitted in light of positive revenue estimates made a few weeks ago by state fiscal analysts.
The new revenue reflects a change in the Governor’s approach to budgeting for developmental disability reforms, which originally depended on cost-shifting within the Division of Disabilities in the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).
The disability-related amendments are:
- An additional $4 million - about equally divided between state and federal funds – to raise the wages of some 4,000 direct care workers for private agencies that provide most of the services to adults with developmental disabilities. The amendment would raise the total allocation for worker raises from $5 million to $9 million.
- A $10 million increase in reimbursements to private providers, including $5 million in additional state revenue, to restore most of the cuts in housing costs made in the Governor’s original budget. That proposal projected 500 adults with developmental disabilities would move from group homes to shared living arrangements with individual families by June 30, 2017, although those estimates were later lowered to 300. A total of 21 individuals have moved during the current fiscal year, according to the latest figures released by BHDDH. The added revenue will enable BHDDH to take a “more appropriate, more deliberative approach to transition individuals from group homes to shared living arrangements” in the future, according to Michael Raia, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
- A total of $170,000 in state and federal funding for an ombudsman who would protect the rights of adults with developmental disabilities. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to define the office and its duties, in response to the death of a resident of a state-run group home in February.
- Restoration of $4.4 million in state and federal funds used to pay for professional services like physical therapy in day centers, In February, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) sought to shift the entire $2.2 million to Medicaid managed care organizations, but families complained that services had in fact been denied. The action was rescinded in March.
One of many provisions of a U.S. District Court order issued by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. on May 18 is that “the State will appropriate the additional money contained in the Governor’s budget for fiscal year 2017 in order to fund compliance with the Consent Decree.”
Any violation of that or any other requirement in the 21-point court order would allow the U.S. Department of Justice or the independent court monitor in the case to ask the judge for a contempt hearing. If the state is found in contempt, it will be fined a minimum of $5,000 a day for the duration of the violation, up to $1 million a year.
In a telephone interview May 25, BHDDH director Maria Montanaro emphasized the need for the total $9 million Governor Raimondo has earmarked for wage hikes for direct care staff in the private service system, in addition to the other adjustments.
Part of what the court wants is a redesign of reimbursement rates, which is more complicated than only raising wages, Montanaro said. The changes in reimbursement that the judge wants, however, can’t be accomplished without paying the workers more, she said.
Raimondo’s budget originally envisioned an increase of $5 million in state and federal funds to pay for a 45-cent hourly wage increase for a workforce now making an average of roughly $11.50 an hour, according to testimony in recent House and Senate committee hearings.
Montanaro could not say exactly how the additional $4 million in federal and state funds would further affect wages, but it would allow BHDDH management and agency representatives to discuss factors like the salaries of supervisors of direct care staff and the cost of employer taxes and benefits, she said. Those discussions would be held after the budget is adopted, she said.
Currently, private agencies are not fully reimbursed for those employer costs, spokesmen for the service providers have testified at recent budget hearings, and they operate at loss for each person they employ.