A state report released last week contains a number of important recommendations to begin to deal with the yawning gap in services, job opportunities, and housing for what may be the fastest growing group of developmentally disabled people in the state and the country.
The Governor’s Commission on Autism listed 13 priorities in addressing the problem, including expanding the number of people eligible for care from the Department of Developmental Services, expanding available community-based services, and expanding private insurance coverage available to families of autistic children and adults.
One apparent shortcoming of the report — and we’re not saying it would be easy to address that shortcoming — is that the report doesn’t say where the money would come from for all of these necessary expansions. It doesn’t appear that even Governor Patrick’s proposed tax increases to fund his Fiscal Year 2014 budget would come close to providing the needed funding for what the Commission notes needs to be done.
It’s somewhat ironic that even as the governor’s Commission calls for these service expansions, his proposed budget would cut funding to the state Autism Division, which manages a key children’s program that the Commission has proposed expanding.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center’s budget browser shows an inflation-adjusted cut in the governor’s FY ’14 budget proposal of 2.6 percent from the amount appropriated for the current fiscal year for the Autism Division.
It’s also ironic, looking back on it, that then Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby told The Boston Globe in 2008 that the planned closures of four state developmental centers for the intellectually disabled would free up some $45 million a year for community-based programs, including services for people with autism.
Since that time, close to $70 million in inflation-adjusted dollars has been cut from the developmental centers line item in the budget. But that money does not appear to have been used to boost most community-based line items. Funding for the Autism Division has, in fact, declined by about 5 percent since Fiscal Year 2009. (Again, these numbers are based on the MBPC’s budget browser.)
Nevertheless, we applaud the Commission for calling further attention to the current lack of adequate services for children and adults with autism, and for its endorsement of proposed legislation in the current session to expand DDS’s responsibility to care for people with autism who don’t currently fit within the Department’s eligibility guidelines (H. 78 and S. 908).
The report criticized inadequate staffing levels in community-based residential care for people with autism and low compensation of staff, which has led to high turnover. The report also noted that many adults with autism live with elderly parents and have “few options for future housing and support.” In addition, the report cited “an unknown backlog of people who would apply for aid if relevant programs existed.”
And the report called for hiring “highly trained service coordinators specially trained in autism.” The report didn’t discuss how this would be done, given that the state has been steadily eliminating service coordinator jobs in recent years.
Nevertheless, we’re glad the Commission put all these things on the record and showed, if nothing else, that they are of concern to state policymakers.