By Gina Macris
(Correction: While the House did not change the appropriation recommended by the House Finance Committee, language was inserted prior to the floor debate that makes sure $5 million in state revenue cannot be used for anything else other than wage increases for direct support workers and performance incentives for the private agencies that employ them.)
Rhode Island's developmental disability budget passed the House unchanged from the last week's finance committee recommendation in a floor vote shortly before midnight June 15. The House sent the entire $8.9 billion state budget to the Senate.
In developmental disability spending, the bottom line would be $246.2 million, part of $1.4 billion in human services expenses for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
In June, 2015, the General Assembly authorized $230.9 million in developmental disability spending for the current fiscal year, which ends in two weeks. As part of its action late Wednesday night, the House added nearly $9.6 million to that figure as a supplemental appropriation.
The bottom line difference between the start of Fiscal Year 2016 and Fiscal Year 2017, which takes effect July 1, is nearly $15.4 million.
The new budget would include $9.1 million to raise the pay of staff of private providers who work directly with adults having developmental disabilities and to change the way the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) reimburses service providers.
These steps are necessary to satisfy some of the requirements of a federal court order issued in May to enforce a 2014 consent decree requiring a shift from sheltered workshops and segregated day programs to supported employment and community-based activities that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Pay increases would be coupled with yet-to-be negotiated performance-based contracts between the state and private agencies that help their clients get regular jobs and enjoy integrated leisure activities.
Governor Gina Raimondo had proposed language that would specifically allocate $2.5 million in state funds for the raises. Each of those dollars would be matched by roughly an equal amount of federal Medicaid funding, for a total of about $5.1 million.
The House Finance Committee, however, removed the protective language around the $2.5 million in state funding, meaning that if BHDDH runs a deficit – as it has for the last eight years – the money set aside for raises could be used to help close the gap. (See correction at top of story.)
Raimondo originally sought to pay for requirements of the consent decree in both the current fiscal year and the new fiscal year by using savings that would result from encouraging group home residents to move to less expensive shared living arrangements in private homes, but that initiative fell far short of its goal.
Her initial budget figured on saving $3.1 million in the current budget and $16.6 million in the next budget, by making as many as 500 new shared living arrangements.
However, the slow pace of these transfers led the governor to ask the General Assembly to put back all $3.1 million in group home costs in the existing fiscal year, and to reduce savings by $10.2 million in group home costs in the budget beginning July 1. The House agreed. As a result, BHDDH is expected to save $6.4 million in group home costs in Fiscal Year 2017.
The House refused Raimondo’s request to add $5.8 million to the next budget for a caseload increase, with the finance committee recommendation saying the caseload has been stable at about 4,000 persons.
The House budget language adds extensive reporting requirements intended to keep the General Assembly abreast of BHDDH compliance with the federal consent decree, Rep. Eileen Naughton, D-Warwick, said on the House floor.
BHDDH is already required to provide key fiscal officials in the General Assembly and the governor’s office monthly reports on the developmental disability caseload and expenditures.
The new language encompasses not only information required by the U.S. District Court but other factors affecting the budget. It says:
“The department (BHDDH) shall also provide monthly the number of individuals in a shared living arrangement and how many may have returned to a 24-hour residential placement in that month. The department shall also report monthly any and all information for the consent decree that has been submitted to the federal court as well as the number of unduplicated individuals employed, the place of employment and the number of hours working. The department shall also provide the amount of funding allocated to individuals above the assigned resource levels, the number of individuals and the assigned resource level and the reasons for the approved additional resources. The department shall also provide the amount of patient liability to be collected and the amount collected as well as the number of individuals who have a financial obligation.”
(This article has been updated.)