By Gina Macris
(This article has been corrected and clarified.)
A federal agency has cut a portion of rehabilitation funds to Rhode Island from an annual average of $3.6 million to about $500,000, a development that within a year’s time is expected to put 2,640 adults with developmental disabilities on a waiting list for services.
Also, the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) will not fund its annual supported employment grant of $300,000. Both cuts affect the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS).
During the past year, the ORS supported employment program has complemented a similar project run by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities to increase employment among adults with intellectual challenges and satisfy terms of a 2014 federal disability rights consent decree.
The RSA, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has re-allocated money from Rhode Island and elsewhere to Texas and other states that have been affected by this year’s hurricanes, according to Rhode Island officials. The changes were effective Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year.
ORS will continue to serve all those who already are on its roster, a total of 3,991 individuals, but a waiting list would be put into effect for new applicants with all disabilities, including developmental disabilities, effective Dec. 1, according proposed changes in a federally-mandated state plan for vocational rehabilitation.
A public hearing on the proposed changes to the state plan will be Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m. in Room 101 of the Warwick Public Library, 600 Sandy Lane, Warwick.
ORS averages 200 applications a month from individuals with disabilities. Of that total, 10 to 15 percent, or 20 to 30 applications, come from individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Clients with developmental disabilities and others who require multiple services over an average of three years are categorized as “first priority” clients, according to the state plan.
The impact of the federal cut on the state’s cost for providing services through ORS was not immediately clear. Measures to reduce spending, in addition to the waiting list, are still under discussion, according to a spokeswoman for ORS’ parent agency, the Department of Human Services (DHS).
The entire state budget is expected to run a deficit of $60.2 million in by the time the current fiscal year closes next June 30, State Budget Officer Thomas Mullaney said in a report Nov. 15 that analyzed projected state revenues and expenses .
The federally-mandated state plan for vocational rehabilitation lists the cost of services for all individuals “estimated to be eligible” as a total of about $7.2 million, including $5,600,508 for “first priority” clients, including those with developmental disabilities.
Since 2010, ORS has had a small waiting list – currently 30 individuals – among “second priority” and “third priority” clients whose disabilities affect their ability to function in no more than two ways and who may not need multiple services over a long period of time. By October 30, 2018, the waiting list is expected to reach 2,640 clients, including those with developmental disabilities.
ORS is considering several cost-cutting measures to limit the size of the waiting list, including “reworking” an innovative pilot program in supported employment, which was created in response to the demands of the 2014 federal consent decree, according to the DHS spokeswoman.
While ORS typically works with clients only until they have landed a job, in the last several years it has has provided so-called "post employment" services to help clients maintain jobs- an average of 15 individuals annually. According to the state plan, ORS will continue to waive clients off the waiting list if they need support to keep their jobs.
Also exempt from the waiting list will be about 520 special education high school students, not part of the caseload for formal vocational rehabilitation services, who nevertheless receive work-related transition services in conjunction with their school districts.
(This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities account for about 10 to 15 percent of the overall caseload of the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services. Other details have been clarified.)