By Gina Macris
Until Rhode Island’s appropriation for developmental disabilities is released to the agency that administers it, the amount of money that is finally approved by the General Assembly will be “just a number,” according to a member of the Employment First Task Force who follows legislative affairs.
Tom Kane, (left), CEO of AccessPoint RI, a provider of developmental disability services, said that in the past several years, there have been three unsuccessful attempts to raise the pay of support staff for adults with developmental disabilities.
All the extra money, between $4 million and $9 million in a single fiscal year, has gone instead to fill a structural deficit in the budget of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), Kane said.
On Wednesday, June 15, the House is expected to vote on an appropriation that would add $9.1 million for raises for about 4000 workers and create a new reimbursement method for some two dozen agencies providing most of the direct services for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.(
The budget proposal voted out of the House Finance Committee, however, does not include Governor Gina Raimondo’s request for $5.8 million for a caseload increase.
Kane indicated that amount of money could also represent the structural deficit in the next fiscal year's developmental disability budget. BHDDH officials say the deficit averages $4.6 a year.
Based on past experience, the money set aside for raises could once again be reserved to fill the deficit, Kane told the group.
The Employment First Task Force was created by a 2014 federal consent decree to serve as a bridge between the community and state governmental agencies that administer developmental disability services. The decree resulted from a federal investigation that found Rhode Island’s sheltered workshops violated the the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act., clarified in the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mary Madden, the state’s consent decree coordinator, said, “People at the General Assembly are not into the consent decree at all.”
They don’t understand why developmental disability services cost so much, she said, because they don’t understand “what it is to provide support 24 hours a day.”
Whatever figure is adopted – the current proposal has a bottom line of about $246 million dollars – the U.S. Department of Justice and an independent court monitor will review it. If either of them has the opinion it is not enough for the state to comply with the consent decree, they could ask the judge in the case to hold a show-cause hearing as to why the state should not be held in contempt.