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Budget reductions falling heavily on state-run services for the disabled

During a conference call on Wednesday with advocates for the developmentally disabled, Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe didn’t have much good news about the potential impact of Governor Baker’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

The budget is bad news for DDS accounts, particularly state-operated services.

“These are huge and difficult reductions,” Howe said.

Baker is dealing, of course, with a projected budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, and it looks as though people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are among those who will pay a price for that shortfall.   Howe said DDS is assuming departmental layoffs will not be necessary if the Legislature accepts Baker’s early retirement proposal for state workers.  If that doesn’t happen, measures such as layoffs may be needed, she said.

Just about every DDS account is being funded lower than what DDS had asked for.  Howe said the governor’s budget required a total of $27 million in reductions from DDS funding requests, but DDS has been able to reduce the hit by $8 million by using some federal revenues as an offset to the total reductions.

As usual, state-operated services may be taking the brunt of the reductions. Howe noted that Baker was proposing a $2.6 million reduction from the DDS request in the state-operated group homes line item.  Under Baker’s budget, the line item would be increased by $5.1 million, from current-year spending (from $209.6 million to $214.7 million).  But that amount is below what DDS considers necessary to maintain current services.

Exactly what the state-run group home line item reduction means is unclear.  Howe said DDS is not projecting “reductions in services to people,” but rather there will be “changes in staffing.” Among other things, DDS has been working to reduce the use of overtime in state-operated group homes, she said.

In January, we sent a letter to Kristen Lepore, Baker’s new secretary of administration and finance, asking that the new administration consider making the funding of state-operated care for the developmentally disabled a priority. For too long, as we noted, state government has been divesting itself of its responsibility to provide care for the most vulnerable of its citizens, and has failed to adequately monitor and control the handover of human services to state-funded corporate providers.

Baker’s first budget does not appear to address that situation.

In addition to the shortfall in funding for state-operated care, Howe said the state-run developmental centers line item would be funded under the governor’s budget at $2 million less than what DDS was requesting.  This account would be cut from the level of spending in the current fiscal year as well, under Baker’s budget.

In addition, DDS service coordinators, Howe said, were being funded at a level $1.8 million below what DDS had requested.  The DDS administrative line item, which funds the service coordinators, would be increased under Baker’s budget, but not by enough to maintain current services.

Corporate provider-run care does not come through unscathed in the governor’s budget, but the overall imbalance in funding between state and provider-operated care will remain.

Funding to DDS corporate residential providers rose past the $1 billion mark for the first time in the current fiscal year.  In fiscal 2014, then Governor Patrick and the Legislature increased the provider line item by more than $140 million –or more than 16 percent—in FY 2015 dollars.  At the same time, both the former governor’s and the legislative budgets either cut or provided much more meager increases for most other DDS line items.

The provider residential account subsequently received a supplemental budget increase in the current fiscal year of $44.7 million, even as both Baker and his predecessor, Patrick, were cutting spending across the board to deal with a projected current-year budget deficit.

Baker has proposed another $33.6 million increase in the provider residential line item for fiscal 2016, but DDS and the providers apparently wanted $4 million more than that.

Among the other DDS line items:

  • Baker has proposed an increase in funding for the day program line item that is $9.7 million lower than what DDS wanted. The line item would be increased by $2.8 million under  Baker’s budget proposal.
  • Respite and Family Supports would be funded at a level $5 million below DDS’s request. Under Baker’s budget, the line item would be increased by $7.4 million, but this line item has been continually underfunded in recent years.  It was cut in the current year by $2.5 million in light of the projected budget deficit.
  • The transportation line item would receive a $3.5 million increase under Baker’s budget, but that increase was $3 million below what DDS wanted.
  • The Autism and Turning 22 accounts would be level-funded, which amounts to a cut when adjusted for inflation.
  • A long-time revenue account of $150,000 from sales from the dairy barn at the Templeton Developmental Center would be eliminated.  The money has been used for program needs at the Center.

The fiscal 2016 budget is now before the Legislature, specifically the House Ways and Means Committee.  We understand that this is a fiscally difficult time for all state programs.  When it comes to the DDS budget, though, this may be a good time to rethink some longtime funding priorities.  We hope key legislators will do just that in coming months.

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