Nowhere in the DMR budget is the exercise as bleak and stark as the beleaguered Turning-22 program, which will face an actual cut next year of $3 million–a 35 percent reduction from the program’s $8.5 million in funding in the current fiscal year. The $5.5 million in the critical transition program will still support core services for those who are already in the Turning-22 program, the EOHHS official said. But he acknowledged that there will be no money for next year’s new cohort of persons who lose their special education services when they reach the age of 22.
The irony is that even the then budget-slashing Gov. Mitt Romney had only tried to cut the Turning 22 program by $2 million last year and return the program to the level-funding it had received for several years despite rising caseloads. After vigorous advocacy by advocates for the disabled, including COFAR, the Legislature last year overturned Romney’s veto of a $2 million increase for the program in the current fiscal year. And then when Romney struck again at that $2 million (as part of his total $425 million in emergency “9C” cuts), it was Governor Patrick himself who restored that funding in one of his first acts in assuming office in January. Yet now, after that exhausting battle, Patrick is proposing to cut Turning 22 by $3 million.
And let’s not forget the salary reserve fund for direct-care workers in human services. A similar battle ensued last year over Romney’s move to eliminate the $28 million line item for the reserve, which is an attempt to establish some parity in pay for those under-compensated workers in the community-based, vendor-operated system. Patrick restored that funding as well in January, and now he’s proposing to cut it by 57 percent, to $12 million.
We expressed some concerns about the administration’s approach when it was announced that Patrick had asked all agencies to plan for 5 to 10 percent reductions in their budgets next year. Once again, it seems, the welfare of deserving groups are being pitted against each other–in this case, persons with mental retardation, and others relying on human services, versus the cities and towns, which will receive a significant budgetary increase next year.
Here are some of the DMR’s other planned belt-tightening moves that will have to be made as part of the exercise to achieve budget balance:
— More than 1,400 persons with mental retardation will lose one day a week of transportation services to day programs.
— Families receiving DMR supports will be subject to a means test for the first time. This appears to follow from new regulations imposed last year by DMR, which will restrict eligibility for services in yet-to-be-defined ways.
— There will be a reduction in an estimated 55 beds in the community available to accept new clients. Given that an undetermined number of people are already waiting for community placements and that DMR is continuing to move ahead with plans to shut the state facilities, the loss of those beds can only make matters worse.
While we understand that hard choices have to be made to deal with a projected $1.2 billion gap between revenues and expenses in next year’s budget, it’s saddening, if not surprising, that the most vulnerable residents of the commonwealth are so often the ones who are asked to make the biggest sacrifices.
Finally, we are concerned that the governor’s budget proposal consolidates seven community-based DMR line items into two consolidated accounts. This makes the budget process less understandable and accessible and departs from the path toward budget transparency, recently suggested by the Massachusetts Budget Transparency Project.