By Gina Macris
The Rhode Island House Finance Committee’s recommended budget for developmental disabilities could represent a glass half full or a glass half empty.
Neither description is likely to satisfy the U.S. District Court, which recently issued an order saying, in effect, that the state must provide developmental disabilities programs a full glass.
The House Finance Committee would give Governor Gina Raimondo most of what she asked for in the next fiscal year, including $5.1 million to raise the pay of direct care workers making poverty wages and another $4.1 million to restructure the way private service providers are reimbursed.
But the recommended budget also is built on two iffy assumptions – that the developmental disability agency will be able to save $6.4 million in housing costs and that the caseload will remain the same, with about 4,000 people receiving services. Raimondo’s budget asked for a $5.8 million increase for 100 new cases.
If either assumption misses the mark, there might not be enough money in the budget to shore up the private service providers, putting at risk at least some of a total of $9.1 million set aside for the raises the service providers want and performance-based contracts the state wants in order to restructure the way it reimburses the private agencies and satisfy part of the U.S. District Court order.
All of the Governor’s request – a total of $16.9 million in added federal and state Medicaid revenue- is needed to correct chronic underfunding in the budget of the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), the department director, Maria Montanaro, told the House Finance Committee in a recent hearing.
For the last eight fiscal years, including the current one, the bills BHDDH gets from service providers have exceeded budgeted amounts, Montanaro said.
Raimondo sought to protect wage increases by specifying in her original proposal that $2.5 million of general revenue “shall be expended on private provider Direct Support Staff raises” in the next fiscal year. That sum would be matched by federal Medicaid dollars for a total of $5.1 million that would pay for 45-cent hourly wage increases.
The protective language around the $2.5 million in state revenue has disappeared from the House Finance Committee’s recommendation.
With the protective language gone, there could be a replay of the current budget, in which $4 million was originally set aside to boost workers’ pay but never made it into their pockets, going instead to help narrow a hole in the budget.
Raimondo herself is counting on the first assumption, that BHDDH will save $6.4 million in the next fiscal year by convincing group home residents that they would be happier living with able-bodied housemates in private homes in the community. These are called shared living arrangements. Simply relocating people would run counter to federal law.
The $6.4 million in savings represents a fraction of Raimondo’s original estimate. In February, when she first released her budget for the 2017 fiscal year, she proposed saving $16.6 million by moving 400 group home residents to shared living in 12 months’ time. The House Finance Committee agreed with her subsequent request to restore $10.2 million of that total.
The prospects of achieving even $6.4 million in savings are not strong if the efforts of the past six months are any indication. What BHDDH director Montanaro describes as a “full court press” to increase the number of shared living arrangements in the second half of the current fiscal year has yielded results that are about the same as the first half. There were 11 new shared living arrangements from July to December of 2015 and 10 new placements since January.
The governor’s budget proposal called for $3.5 million in group home savings during the current fiscal year with 100 new shared living arrangements, but the actual savings will be more like $200,000, Montanaro told the Senate Finance Committee at the end of April.
The House Finance Committee’s recommended budget acknowledges this development by adding $3.5 million back into to the department’s supplemental appropriation for the current fiscal period, which ends June 30.
While approving major elements of the governor’s developmental disabilities budget proposal, the House Finance Committee rejected a $5.8-million request to cover an estimated caseload increase of 100 in the coming fiscal year, saying that the developmental disability caseload has been stable at about 4,000.
Yet there is a backlog of about 240 individuals who have applied for an eligibility determination, according to a BHDDH spokeswoman. Two thirds of them are under the age of 21, according to another BHDDH official. That would mean that roughly 80 are over 21.
And the numbers of young adults with developmental disabilities who are turning 21 and leaving school - 74 in the current academic year alone – suggest that the caseload should be growing.
Persons with developmental disabilities between the ages of 14 and 21, who are at risk of segregation as adults, are one of the main concerns of the U.S. Department of Justice in enforcing a 2014 consent decree requiring community-based adult services, with an emphasis on supported employment.
The consent decree, in effect until Jan. 1, 2024, resulted from a DOJ investigation that found the state’s sheltered workshops and segregated day centers for adults with disabilities violated the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which was clarified in the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court..
In a hearing in April in U.S. District Court, the DOJ presented evidence that BHDDH does not determine eligibility until a few months before an applicant turns 21.
State law says that persons with developmental or intellectual disabilities are eligible for services when they turn 18.
Newly eligible young adults and their families often have trouble finding appropriate services, according to the evidence presented in court.
Many of the two dozen private service providers in the state are not accepting new clients because they say they are operating at a deficit. Montanaro has confirmed that assertion, telling the House Finance Committee recently that the private agencies have opened their books to BHDDH.
With the federal court case continuing under terms of a judge’s order, there is likely to be pressure on the state to make sure that all applicants for adult services get timely consideration and an appropriate array of supports, a factor that could push up the caseload numbers.
In its budget recommendation, the House Finance Committee said it would reconsider its refusal of a caseload increase if the numbers do go up.
It is possible that decision was at least partly influenced by frustration in the House leadership with a history of poor record-keeping at BHDDH, something that also has worked against the department in the U.S. District Court case.
The House Finance budget added extensive language requiring BHDDH to report monthly on a variety of statistics, including everything submitted to the court as part of the consent decree requirements.
After the court experienced delays in getting an accurate count of individuals protected by the consent decree, Judge John J. McConnell issued an order May 18 that requires the state “to create a live database that will allow for efficient and effective tracking of each member of each target population outlined in the Consent Decree and all related and required services and outcomes.” The order then describes all the reporting requirements in extensive detail.
In all, the order contains 22 requirements, most of them with deadlines in July and August. In the event of a violation of any part of the order, the DOJ or an independent court monitor in the case could ask McConnell for a show-cause hearing as to why the state should not be held in contempt. Fines start at $1,000 a day and max out at a total of $1 million for the year.
The first requirement of the order 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.” No dollar amount is cited.