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We thought there was a state budget deficit

Given that the Patrick administration is projecting a $329 million state budget deficit in the current fiscal year and is seeking to cut millions of dollars in local aid and other accounts, why are they also proposing more than $42 million in additional funding in the current year for corporate providers that contract with the Department of Developmental Services?

While the administration has made more than $200 million in emergency “9C” cuts  and has proposed additional cuts, it has filed a supplemental budget appropriation to add $42.5 million to the DDS Adult Long-term Residential (corporate provider) line item.  The supplemental funding for the providers, by the way, is listed in the same bill filed by the administration that proposes mid-year cuts in local aid and other accounts.

It’s not as though DDS itself is being spared the funding cuts.  As part of the 9C reductions, two DDS line items are being cut: the Community Day and Work line item by $3 million, and Respite Family Supports by $2.5 million.

But the DDS providers are getting multiple funding increases.  As of July 1, the administration and Legislature had agreed to raise the provider line item by $159 million from the previous fiscal year, pushing it over the $1 billion mark.  The reason for that nearly 20 percent increase in funding in one year was to fully fund higher payment rates to the providers that were agreed to in legislation enacted in 2008 and known as “Chapter 257.”

But even that $159 million increase this year wasn’t apparently enough.  The $42.5 million supplemental appropriation now being sought by the administration is supposedly to make up for a continuing shortfall in fully implementing the Chapter 257 rate increases for the providers.

But why make up that Chapter 257 shortfall now while we’re facing a state budget deficit? Chapter 257 has apparently not been fully funded since it was enacted in 2008, so why is it so important to commit $42 million to it now?

Meanwhile, in light of the planned $42 million increase to the providers, the decision to cut at least one of the two DDS programs –Respite Family Supports by $2.5 million — is especially puzzling.   Respite care involves short-­term, out­-of­-home supports for individuals with developmental disabilities who live at home.  It allows  parents  and  other primary  caregivers  to  handle  personal matters, emergencies, or simply take a break.  In fact, DDS listed its commitment to supporting families who care at home for developmentally disabled individuals as the third of its top five strategic goals for fiscal 2012 through 2014.

The DDS strategic plan goes on to promise that:

The Family Support account will provide the resources needed to provide vital respite care, in-home skills development, social programs and support groups for parents and siblings.

The administration and Legislature had, in fact, approved a $2.5 million — or roughly 5 percent — increase in the Respite Family Supports account as of the start of the fiscal year on July 1.  So taking that increase away now amounts to an effective cut in inflation-adjusted terms in this “vital” program.  The fact that the money is being rescinded in the middle of the year effectively doubles the impact of that cut to $5 million on an annualized basis.

The DDS Community Day line item had been increased by $11.8 million from the previous fiscal year, apparently in part to help fund the transfers of people from sheltered workshops to day programs.  In addition, the Legislature had approved two reserve funds totaling $3 million to help fund that same transfer from sheltered workshops to day and employment programs.

The mid-year cut in the Community Day account of that same $3 million amount may make some sense given that language was approved in the current-year budget preventing the planned closures of sheltered workshops.  If the workshops are going to stay open past this coming June, DDS won’t need the funding they were originally projecting to transfer people to day programs.

But while the Community Day account cut might make some sense, the cut to the Respite Family account seems to make much less sense.  And when considered in light of the extra millions going to the providers, the Respite Family cut seems downright cruel.

In fact, we might take this occasion to ask what happened to the additional $80 to $110 million in Medicaid funding from the federal government that was going to be used to “increase community services and decrease institutional settings in Massachusetts?”  As the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers stated, “the activities of DDS comprise a significant part of the base for this (additional Medicaid) award…”

If we have received up to $110 million in additional Medicaid funding this year, why not use that to help solve the budget deficit, and at least prevent cuts to critical programs such as Respite Family care?  Moreover, we hope the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees will see fit to put the administration’s proposed $42 million increase in state funding to the DDS providers on hold, at least while we’re dealing with the current budget shortfall.

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  1. Anonymous
    December 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Unfortunetly Respite services are always the first to be cut in the DDS system. Anytime there are cuts to funding, respite and family supports get slashed.

    With all the proposed budget cuts to programs and city aid, legislators are alos pushing for raises for the Governor and top state officials as well as increasing their travel expenses. Does not make sense to me……….

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