Advocates Worry Over Autism Inaction & ALTR 5% Gap
Eligibility Law Can't Be Implemented without funding
When the Legislature enacted and the Governor signed the Autism Omnibus Bill this past summer, advocates, including the bill's sponsors, the autism community, DDS, The Arc of Massachusetts, AFAM, and ADDP acknowledged that the expansion of the definition of developmental disability could not be implemented on existing funding but would require additional funds to carry out the intent of the legislature.
Advocates testified and supported the DDS projection that the law could be phased in with a $5 million infusion in year one. Under the new law, the definition for DDS eligibility was expanded to include people on the autism spectrum and those with smith-magenis syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome. This is a significant change as it will assist many whose functional needs are not reflected by their IQ score and who are now denied access to DDS services.
It has been expected that the Patrick Administration would immediately request a supplemental budget request for this purpose to ensure that people promised services under the new law would get the service and not simply end up on a state waiting list.
To date, EOHHS Secretary John Polanowicz and A&F Secretary Glen Shor have not committed to seeking the needed funded for the implementation of the expanded DD definition or the additional $45 million to make up for the 5% shortfall in DDS Residential Contracts for FY 15.
Furthermore, The Arc and ADDP learned that there is no pending action on any further appropriation bills at this time. Additionally, we understand that the newly released and implemented Adult Long Term Residential Rates, have been shorted by 5% to be made up later. To date, no action has been taken on this obligation, although the Secretary's staff did inform Ways & Means leadership of this shortfall.
The Arc, AFAM and ADDP believe these matters must be brought to the attention of Governor Deval Patrick as soon as possible, who has a solid record of advocacy for the disability community.
Failure to fund these two initiatives has the potential to significantly delay services for people with autism and to disrupt residential services.
In fact, DDS is required to report to the Legislature in February 2015, on the status of expanded autism and eligibility services. Without the funding being provided during the Patrick Administration, there will be data to share with the Legislature in its' winter report.
The Arc, AFAM and ADDP, and other autism advocates will continue to monitor the situation . If needed an action alert will be sent in the next week or so to call upon the Secretaries and the Governor to take immediate action.
Is there available funding?
In a letter to the CEOs of The Arc of Massachusetts and ADDP, EOHHS Secretary John Polanowicz indicated that the department cannot request supplemental funding without identifying a source for the funding.
Advocates have confirmed there are both special reserve funds and/or general fund sources available to cover this cost.
In addition to funds coming into the state's general fund in excess of last year's receipts and revenue projections (State House News reports "revenues over the first two months of the fiscal year eclipsing estimates by $65 million"), the State is receiving in FY 15 $80 to $110 million in additional Medicaid funding from the federal government's Balancing Incentive Program, an effort to encourage states to increase community services and decrease institutional settings. The activities of DDS comprise a significant part of base for this award and comport with the intended use of the funds.
The delay by EOHHS and ANF is troubling to the consumers, self advocates and families that will be harmed by any further delay in obtaining services promised by the eligibility expansion.
It is believed by many that Governor Patrick has not yet been briefed on this funding issue and is likely to be supportive when provided with the information.