RI Official Describes How Nearly $12 Million in DD Budget Responds to Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island is poised to offer financial rewards to agencies that meet certain performance goals in delivering supported employment services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.

At a meeting of the Employment First Task Force on Aug. 9, Jennifer Wood explained how the state will use a total of nearly $12 million in funding authorized by the General Assembly in the current budget to implement the two year-old federal consent decree which mandates that adults with developmental disabilities have access to regular jobs in their communities.

A total of $6.8 million will be set aside for the supported employment bonuses –an estimated average of $15,750 after a client has been employed for six months. An additional $5.1 million has been earmarked for modest wage increases to about 4,000 agency staff who work directly with clients.

Ultimately, it is up to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court to say whether these measures conform with a detailed order he issued in May requiring Rhode Island to lay the groundwork for long-term compliance with the consent decree, which remains in effect until Jan. 1, 2024.

At some point, the independent court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, is expected to report to the court on whether he believes that state’s latest compliance efforts meet the requirements of the court order.

The May 18 order said that by Aug. 1, the state had to:

  • implement performance-based contracts for supported employment services
  • implement a flexible reimbursement model that pays service providers for the actual cost of providing services
  • implement individual financial authorizations for clients receiving services that include specific allocations for supported employment services 
  • increase salaries, benefits, training, and supervision for direct service workers and job coaches.s

The Task Force, made up of representatives of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and community organizations, was created by the consent decree as a bridge between government and the community. It met in the offices of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick, 

Wood told Task Force members that the private agencies employing the workers will get lump sums for raises retroactive to July 1, but she could not say exactly when that will happen. Figuring out the payments has been a huge mathematical exercise, she said, and still requires changing the programming on state computers.

Based on current average pay of $11.55 an hour, the raises would be an average of $.30 an hour, Wood said, although actual salaries vary from one agency to another.

In a report to the court on July 29, the state said that it will require service providers to show that the money went to workers who have direct contact with clients, as the General Assembly intended.

Wood told Task Force members that state officials have been working with private service providers on the incentive program.

The July 29 report to the court said the incentive program will be implemented from August through next June, although the state has not yet begun taking applications from service providers. The program will serve a minimum of 200 clients with developmental disabilities. according to the filing with the court.

These clients will receive specific allocations for supported employment services as part of their individual financial authorizations from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), Wood said in a brief interview after Tuesday’s meeting.

Others served by BHDDH who are not part of the supported employment incentive program will not be affected. That means that if they want supported employment services, they must continue to trade in hours from another category of daytime support.

The bonuses will be paid in stages; when a client gets a job and after three months and six months on the job respectively, according to the report to the court. It also said the dollar amounts and numbers of incentives may be adjusted.

Wood told the Task Force that the experience of the first six months of the program would be used to make improvements for the second half of the fiscal year.

After the meeting, she said the incentive program would be an added “layer” over the current reimbursement model, which requires agencies to document clients’ face-to-face interaction with direct service workers in 15-minute increments during the day. 

That “unit service model” will remain in place, she said.

Because the reimbursement system does not pay an agency when a client is absent, for whatever reason, the provider cannot collect the full amount of the client’s authorization for daytime activities.

The consent decree found fault with this method of payment. It required the following change:

“The State will ensure that its reimbursement model for day activity services is sufficiently flexible to allow providers to be reimbursed for costs (e.g. transportation to the job site, employer negotiation, counseling clients by telephone) that are: (1) directly related to providing Supported Employment Services to individuals in the Target Populations, and (2) provided when service provider staff is not face-to-face with a client. “