By Louis P. DiPalma
The Rhode Island Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) in the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH) is undergoing a significant transformation, much like Department of Children, Youth and Families. This transformation requires financial investment to succeed, not the proposed cuts.
As legislators, we must work to ensure we invest in the most vulnerable populations in our state, including the more than 4,000 individuals living with intellectual/ developmental disabilities (I/DD) who are served by BHDDH-DDD.
From a programs perspective, there are at least two critical elements of transformation the agency is undertaking. The first element is required by the 10-year 2014 consent decree settlement with the Department of Justice for violation of the civil rights of individuals with I/DD. The state, currently in its fourth year of transformation, is now under a court order.
The key focus of this transformational initiative is to transition individuals with I/DD from working in sheltered workshops to integrated employment and community-based programming. And, while the state is making progress in many areas, there is still a need for increased focus and attention.
When all is said and done, in 2024, successfully achieving the goals of the Consent Decree will require approximately $25 million in annual state and federal funding. The Department of Justice is closely monitoring our investments and commitment to reforming our practices toward full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in local communities and businesses. We must invest and commit to the ideals of inclusion for individuals with I/DD.
Another critical element of transformation is the transition of individuals with I/DD from living in group homes to alternative living arrangements, such as shared living arrangements. This transformational, voluntary program, when fully implemented, will require less funding than what is currently needed to support the same individuals in group homes.
The state is making progress in ensuring new DD clients who enter the system have the opportunity to live independently with supports, though challenges remain. During this multi-year transition, the agency will be required to sustain and maintain both systems, necessitating additional investment for multiple years, including in additional personnel. Without it, the transition will not be successful, individuals will not be in the most appropriate settings, and the savings would be unrealized.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has committed to new leadership for BHDDH and DDD to lead this transformation, and progress is being made. However, we are at a point in the transformation that requires investment in the division and the services they fund.
A review of the proposed budgets for the BHDDH-DDD, shows a revised current year budget, including general revenue and federal funding, of $269 million and the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget of $248 million, a reduction of $21 million.
A $21 million reduction in funding at a time when investments are needed. As a legislator, I appreciate the challenge the governor is confronting, especially in light of our structural deficit. Any increases in revenues should be invested in Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens, including individuals living with I/DD. It is the right thing to do, and it will help continue progress toward system transformation and compliance with the consent decree.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”
Louis P. DiPalma, a Rhode Island state senator, is a Democrat serving Newport, Middletown, Little Compton, and Tiverton