In a conference call with advocates last week, Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe put what seems to be a highly optimistic spin on the governor’s FY 14 budget plan for her department.
Howe said that, “I think we’re entering into this (budget process) in better shape than in a considerable period of time.” Last spring, she similarly described the plan for the current-year DDS budget, as it emerged from the House Ways & Means Committee, as “the best budget the Department has had in five years.”
Governor Patrick’s $1.5 billion, FY 14 budget plan for DDS appears to be typical of his overall budget proposals for human services, but we aren’t ready to make too many rosy projections about it.
First, there’s the question whether the governor’s budget proposals are realistic, given that they depend on passage of his plan to raise taxes. And as was the case last year, Howe seems to be focusing on the brightest spots in a budget for her department that appears to have many dark spots as well.
Howe did begin the Wednesday call by noting that the governor’s proposed budget (H1) depends on legislative passage of his proposal to increase the income tax rate to 6.25 percent. The state’s current revenue estimate for the coming fiscal year “doesn’t support all of what we’re trying to do,” she said.
Howe said, though, that she had no figures on what might happen to the DDS line items for FY 14 if the Legislature were to balk at the governor’s tax plan, which seems a good possibility.
Secondly, while Howe noted that H1 calls for increasing a number of DDS line items, she acknowledged there are also a number of projected shortfalls and cuts in it. Among the line items in H1 with projected shortfalls are DDS Administration (which funds service coordinators), State-operated group homes, and Community-based Transportation programs.
Also, the community-based Adult Family Supports and Turning 22 accounts would be only level-funded under H1, while the Autism Division account would be cut by a small amount.
In addition, the state-run developmental center line item would be cut by $10.4 million, bringing the total amount cut from this account by the Patrick administration to nearly $80 million since FY 2009. As we’ve said many times before, we have yet to see how that cut in developmental center funding has provided much in the way of benefits for the average DDS client in the community system.
Moreover, Howe said there is no money in the H1 budget for the developmental center account for the continued operation of the Fernald Center in the coming fiscal year, meaning the Department will once again have to ask for supplemental funding for Fernald.
The following is a line-item breakdown for DDS, under H1 for FY14:
DDS Administration and service coordinators (5911-1003):
H1 would increase this line item by $1.7 million, to $64.7 million. However, Howe said this increase is the result of salary increases due to collective bargaining with the SEIU state employee union. Without an additional $500,000 in the account, 10 to 12 service coordinator jobs could be lost, she said.
Service coordinators have the critical task of making sure DDS clients are receiving the right services in the community system, and their caseloads are growing out of control. SEIU is asking for an additional $2.5 million in the administrative line item in order to restore 50 service coordinator jobs out of the 82 jobs lost since 2007.
Community Transportation (5911-2000):
H1 would increase this account by $537,000, to $13 million. However, Howe said this increase will still result in a shortfall in the transportation account of $500,000.
Community Residential (5920-2000):
H1 would increase this account by $71.7 million, to $860.3 million. Howe said some of this increased funding is the result of “Chapter 257,” a 2008 “global payment” initiative, which established pre-set rates for DDS residential service vendors. The Arc of Massachusetts says the Chapter 257 increase amounts to $55 million and is a “down-payment” on a total $175 million increase in funding that is expected to be given to the vendors.
State-operated Residential (5920-2010):
H1 would increase this account by $10.6 million, to $191.4 million. Howe noted that this increase is largely for the operation of new state-run group homes for residents from developmental centers marked for closure. Overall, she said, the increase in this account is $3.5 million less than what DDS requested, meaning the Department is once again projecting a shortfall in needed funding.
Community Day and Work (5920-2025):
H1 would increase the amount by $28.4 million, to $161.9 million, which is good news.
Adult Family Supports (5920-3000):
H1 would level-fund this account at $49.5 million, which is not good news.
Autism Division (5920-3010):
H1 would cut this account by $22,166, to $4.6 million. Bad news.
Turning 22 (5920-5000):
H1 would level-fund this account at $6 million. However, it would increase the annualized amounts for Turning 22 clients in the community residential, community day programs, and community transportation accounts. Mixed news.
Facilities (developmental centers) (5930-1000):
H1 would cut this account by $10.4 million, to $123 million. The Facilities account has been cut by nearly $80 million since FY 09.
Templeton Retained Revenue (5982-1000):
H1 would level-fund this account at $150,000
Non-DDS line items:
EOHHS Salary Reserve (1599-6901):
It does not appear that H1 contains any funding for the salary reserve for wage increases for direct-care workers employed by DDS vendors. In November, Patrick froze $20 million that had been placed in the fund for the current fiscal year.
Disabled Persons Protection Commission (1107-2501):
H1 would increase this account by $23,000, to $2.3 million. The effect, however, is level-funding of the agency, which has been level-funded since FY 2009. The DPPC is an independent state agency charged with investigating complaints of abuse and neglect of people with intellectual and other disabilities.
We’ll stay tuned of course to see what the House and Senate do with the governor’s budget for DDS. All in all, we don’t share the assessment that we’re entering into this budget process in great shape.
We are no doubt well into an era of reduced public services and of having to do more with less. Unfortunately, the administration doesn’t appear to have put much thought into how to accomplish that. It’s main initiative has been to close developmental centers, which hasn’t boosted funding to most community-based accounts.