Last week’s House budget debate on the Fiscal 2017 state budget showed just how little, in the way of funding increases, programs for the developmentally disabled will get next year.
In that regard, the House debate was an initial test of the Legislature’s willingness to do better than Governor Baker has with his proposed Fiscal 2017 budget. The House showed it wasn’t willing to do very much.
With the exception of privatized services and one or two other programs, such as family respite services, neither Baker nor the Legislature seem to have put a priority lately on services for the developmentally disabled.
It’s tempting to think of what could be accomplished if some of the state’s $80 million film tax credit, for instance, were diverted to agencies like the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.
Governor Baker’s 2017 budget actually proposes level-funding the DPPC, which is the only state agency in Massachusetts devoted exclusively to preventing and investigating abuse and neglect of disabled persons. A zero increase in nominal dollars would actually amount to a cut in that agency’s budget when adjusted for inflation.
After House leaders last week rejected amendments proposing as much as a $1 million increase for the DPPC, the House did approve an amendment for a $100,000 boost in the agency’s $2.9 million budget. When adjusted for inflation, that would amount to an increase of about 1.5 percent.
As we reported last year, the DPPC has been beset by a chronic lack of adequate funding over the past decade and a maze of legal constraints.
State-run DDS programs will get little or no increases
The governor and now the House have also shown scant interest in raising the level of funding for state-run programs for the developmentally disabled, particularly commonwealth-operated group homes.
We had asked a legislator, on behalf of some of her constituents, to file an amendment to boost funding for the commonwealth group-home line item. The legislator’s constituents happen to have a family member in a commonwealth-operated group home, and they are concerned about the flat or declining level of funding for those facilities. The legislator, at the last minute, declined to file the amendment.
In his budget, Baker proposed less than a 2 percent increase in funding for the commonwealth-operated group home line item, which would also amount to a cut in inflation-adjusted terms. Last month, I asked Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe about that. While Howe admitted the funding proposed for the commonwealth group homes is inadequate, she said DDS did not intend to seek an amendment in the House budget to increase that funding.
We believe the governor proposed about $500,000 less for the commonwealth-operated group homes than what DDS itself believes is needed. Howe’s response to us, however, was, “We’re just going to have to manage it.” It appears that the DDS mindset is that eventually the commonwealth-operated programs will be privatized, so it is not worth pushing for more money for those programs.
Also rejected by the House last week was an amendment that would have provided for a $3.4 million increase in the DDS administrative line item, which funds DDS service coordinators. The governor and House Ways and Means Committee have together approved only a $400,000 increase in that line item, which actually amounts to a 1.2 percent cut when adjusted for inflation. The line item for the service coordinators, like the line item for DPPC, has been continually underfunded despite rising caseloads in recent years.
Privatized DDS services
Corporate provider-operated residential services is one of the few areas in which Baker has continued to propose increased funding. In that case, we agree with the House, which apparently considered Baker’s proposed $26 million increase in the corporate provider residential line item to be enough. House leaders rejected an amendment that would have boosted the line item by $6.5 million over the governor’s increase.
The House similarly rejected amendments for increases, above what the governor had proposed, in both the community-based day care line item and a pilot program to fund transfers from sheltered workshops into community-based day care. Baker had actually proposed a $4.6 million increase in that particular program, but the House Ways and Means Committee rejected it.
When it comes to privatized services, we’ve said before that the budget is out of balance. The corporate provider residential line item has been increased too rapidly, at the expense of almost all other DDS programs.
We’ve also opposed the closures of sheltered workshops throughout the state, and the transfer of that funding to day care programs.
The increases that the House did approve
There were a few amendments that were accepted last week to increase funding:
The House did approve $50,000 to further expand Operation House Call. As we’ve reported, the program, which is run by the Arc of Massachusetts, provides instruction to students in medical and nursing schools in Massachusetts on treating people with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Operation House Call appears to be a good, though limited approach to addressing the lack of training of health care professionals. We were supporting a bill requiring a more comprehensive approach to the problem. Last month, the Public Health Committee approved that bill. But the committee then quietly approved substitute language to the bill to expand Operation House Call, and dropped the more comprehensive program.
Family supports, as mentioned, was one other area where Baker actually proposed more than a token increase in funding for next year. His Fiscal 2017 budget calls for a $6.8 million, or 12 percent, increase in that line item.
The House last week approved an additional $100,000 increase in the family support and respite line item and earmarked that increase for persons over 40.
Those proposed increases in funding for family supports are good moves. But in the final analysis, we believe the governor and Legislature need to rethink their priorities when it comes to budgeting services for the developmentally disabled.