Saturday, April 9, 2011

Florida cuts funding to disability service providers by 15% or more

From Florida Today:

SUNTREE, Fla. —— When Behavioral Services of Brevard was told April 8 the state was cutting payments to service providers of people with disabilities by at least 15 percent, the Cocoa agency immediately suspended service to its 60 developmentally disabled clients.

“We had to get a handle on things,” said Marta “Tiki” Fiol, the agency’s manager of adult day training.

The agency crunched its numbers and concluded it could remain open only if its 35 staff members and 10 in-home clinicians agreed to a 25 percent pay cut, Fiol said.

“The staff stepped up,” she said, and agreed to the cuts Tuesday. “I’m about to cry.”

Behavorial Services is expected to reopen today.

Fiol was among the dozen advocates accompanied by clients Wednesday who stood on Suntree Boulevard to protest the $170 million spending cuts Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to make in payments to service providers.

Some wore T-shirts with the slogan, “Bureaucratically impaired.”

Protests were staged around the state, including hundreds of providers and clients who chanted, “No more cuts,” at Florida’s Capitol.

Scott last Thursday ordered a minimum 15 percent cut in payments to providers who serve Floridians with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual handicaps, Down syndrome and other disorders. The cuts could rise to 30¤percent or 40¤percent for group homes and other businesses that employ caregivers, as administrative allowances also were eliminated by the 90-day emergency order.

The governor said he had to close an unfunded gap of $170 million at the agency.

That gap was the result of years of growing demand and shrinking budget, said Melanie Etters, spokeswoman for APD.

The state’s Medicaid waiver program offers 27 different services from job coaching to live-in assistance to about 33,000 Floridians who qualify for the program.That number has remained constant during the past four years, Etters said, but The demand for services has increased by 14¤percent a year during that same period the past four years.

The emergency rate slash will not eliminate the deficit, but it will greatly reduce it, Etters said.With the cuts, the agency is expected to carry over $37¤million in debt into the next fiscal year.

“Our goal is to try and bring our deficit under control,” Etters said.
It’s the second round of cuts for the agency this year. It ordered a 15 percent across-the-board cut in February.

Etters said service shouldn’t be affected, but advocates said it’s impossible to provide the same level of care with at least 30¤percent less compensation. Advocates also said the issue is not the increase in services as much as the state’s addition of 5,000 new customers three years ago without increasing the Medicaid waiver program budget.

Advocates at Wednesday’s protests said they were given no notice, and some will have to lay off employees or close. They warn the cuts may take independence from many people — turning them back to their families or to institutions that cost taxpayers more than in-home help.

“This is no way to run a business. This is no way to run a state,” shouted Rich LaBelle of the Family Network on Disabilities, on the steps of the Senate Office Building. “Gov. Scott, you are devastating people’s lives.”

Organizers of the Tallahassee protest distributed bright yellow “Don’t hold your breath” vouchers, drawn like a dollar bill, with Scott’s picture at the center. They challenged Scott to provide two hours of care for a person with a disability.

“I might be losing my support coordinator and supported living coach,” said Delores Webb, a Titusville woman who receives services from the Kay Bonds Agency, who traveled to Tallahassee.

Medicaid Waiver Support coordinators who help people with disabilities get services from the state must prove the services are medically necessary, said Laura Mohesky, a support coordinator in Brevard, who also was in Tallahassee.

“We have to justify every service and be approved,” she said.

As clients get older, they need more services, she said, but the state keeps cutting the budget.

“The state has cut the program over and over,” Mohesky said. “It has never added dollars to make up the difference when adding more individuals.”

Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos (pictured) met with demonstrators in Suntree to hear their concerns so she could relay them to her husband, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. The Senate and House are debating next year’s budget and its $4 billion deficit.

“There is a place for government, helping people who can’t help themselves,” she said.

Advocates worried that the Legislature would maintain the Medicaid waiver payment cuts.

“If nothing changes and the status quo remains, we will have to shut down and all those individuals will be without jobs, and clients will be without services and in jeopardy.”