Home > Uncategorized > Following the money on three new DDS-related laws

Following the money on three new DDS-related laws

More than five months ago, three important pieces of legislation affecting people with developmental disabilities were ceremonially signed into law with a lot of fanfare by then Governor Patrick; but there has been little information since about the status of these new laws.

We are attempting to find out via Public Records law requests to the Department of Developmental Services what is being done to implement these laws, how much it all will cost, and where the money is going.  The Department does not seem eager to part with that information voluntarily.

1.  National Background Check law: This new law authorizes national criminal background checks for persons hired to work in an unsupervised capacity with persons with developmental disabilities.  It will ultimately require that both current and prospective caregivers in the DDS system submit their fingerprints to a federal database maintained by the FBI.

We previously reported that the requirements under this law have been delayed by up to four years.

On March 2, we sent in information request to DDS, asking what steps the Department had taken to implement the law and whether the Department has finally applied for grant funds available since 2010 from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Affordable Care Act to design a national background check program.

To date, despite a follow-up email on March 30, we have received no response from the Department to our questions.  As a result, we submitted a Public Records request to the Department on March 31, asking for all reports, memoranda, and other records that concern those issues.  Legally, state agencies do not have to respond to information requests, but they do have to respond within 10 days to requests for public records.

More than a year and a half ago, a DDS administrator said the Department had not applied for an ACA grant, which can be as high as $3 million per state, because the legislation authorizing national background checks in Massachusetts had not yet been passed.

 2. The ‘Real Lives’ law:  This law introduces what is called “person-centered planning” in providing care and services to persons with developmental disabilities.

On March 3, we submitted a Public Records request to DDS, seeking records pertaining to all payments made by the Department in Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 to a company called Public Partnerships, LLC.  According to a DDS website PowerPoint document, Public Partnerships has begun contracting with DDS to provide “individualized fiscal intermediary” or financial management services to participants in the Real Lives program.

While the Real Lives law is touted as providing individuals with more choice and “self determination” in the services they receive from DDS, we are concerned the law will transfer decision-making authority from guardians and family members of disabled individuals to private financial management companies.

Thus far, it is unclear exactly what services Public Partnerships has or will provide under the law and how much it has or will be paid to do so.  The DDS PowerPoint states that the financial management services “may include” fiscal accounting, tax withholding, criminal background checks, and other services.  The PowerPoint provides no specifics, however.

As of early March, it did not appear that DDS had yet developed policies or regulations regarding the Real Lives law, and more specifically concerning the nature of the financial management services that will be used under the law.  The most recent policy statement from DDS concerning “self-determination” is dated January 2010.

Public Partnerships is not new to contracting with DDS.  The firm received $14 million in funding from DDS in Fiscal Year 2014, according to an online state site that tracks spending on human services contractors. It was not clear what services Public Partnerships provided to DDS in fiscal 2014.

The state’s Open Checkbook website listed a total of $10.9 million in DDS payments to Public Partnerships so far in the current fiscal year. The website, however, also does not specify the services provided for that funding.

Public Partnerships bills itself on its website as “a full-service financial management services firm dedicated solely to providing fiscal/employer agent, third party administrator, and related support services to public agencies.”  The site adds that the firm helps state, county, and local public agencies “implement a participant-directed service model.”

Audited financial statements for the company and a Colorado affiliate, available on the state contractor site, disclose that Public Partnerships and its Colorado affiliate received more than $1 billion in total revenues in fiscal 2014.  Public Partnerships is a subsidiary of Public Consulting Group, a Boston-based consulting firm, which has received $3.3 million so far in the current fiscal year from several agencies in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

3. The DDS eligibility law:  In September 2014, we first asked DDS for information on the funding available to carry out this new law, which requires that the Department expand services to include persons with autism and conditions known as Prader-Willi and Smith-Magenis Syndrome. We received no response to that request for information.

Then on March 2 of this year,  we sent an email to the DDS commissioner, asking whether the Department has developed a cost estimate for expanding services under the new law and what that estimate might be.  Having received no response to that question, we have asked in a Public Records request for reports, memoranda, and other documents that concern the potential cost of the new law.

You may wonder why we have even bothered to send information queries to DDS, given that they don’t seem to respond to them.  The answer is they have, at times, responded to those queries.  In the past year or so, it seems, they’ve stopped responding.  It’s hard to say why. Maybe they they’ve adopted a new policy of circling the wagons and cutting off information.

But the way an agency such as DDS chooses to — or is required to — spend taxpayer dollars is its most basic function and a subject of overriding public interest.  Keeping information bottled up may serve the interest of some administrators, but it is not in the public interest.
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