Nov 6, 2011

Fla. Senate ponders cuts for developmentally disabled

A Senate committee Thursday encouraged Mike Hansen, director of the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, in his quest to trim spending at the chronically cash-strapped agency although his plan will likely result in major service cuts for APD clients.Hansen told the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs that more than half the 30,000 Floridians who receive services via a Medicaid waiver would see reductions under the iBudget plan, which uses a formula to determine how much each client gets, and that 22 percent would lose half their allocations.I know its hard to determine the difference between what someone needs and what they want, he said, but were trying to figure out a way to do that.APD has a $10.5 million deficit for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and is also trying to find tens of millions of dollars in savings to balance this year's budget. The transition to the new plan began Oct. 1 in the Panhandle and Big Bend regions, and APD hopes to take it statewide by July.Lawmakers were generally enthusiastic, citing the agencys long history of shortfalls, and Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called iBudgets a more realistic approach than in the past.I dont think we ever gave [APD] enough money to run the program properly, she said, so youre setting them up for failure. Lets be a little more honest about budgeting needs, and maybe they can then stay within their budget.Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon and the committee chairwoman, agreed. "Tolerance is very low for needing more money from the appropriations people because it seems that, from the Legislatures perspective, no matter how much we allocate, we will always need more money [for APD]."Storms also said she wanted committee members to look at the cuts as a way to avoid managed care, "which I think is a really serious threatmuch, much worse for the population."Using a visual display titled Hard Choices, Hansen gave examples of which plans would apply to which clients. Only core services defined as those necessary to maintain health and safety would qualify for funding.But Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, said cuts to services such as Adult Day Training would erode the clients quality of life and should be preserved where possible."I just dont believe people can sit in their homes all day long," she said. "Its so counter-productive to trying to get people to be self-sufficient. Somehow we have got to find a way for people who need that to be able to have that service."No one expected the cuts to go over well."I know we will be sued," Storms said."Anybody who gets a cut of 40 percent or more, were going to be hearing from those folks in our home district," said Detert.Hansen noted that when APD shifted its service delivery system to its previous "tier" system, which also capped individual budgets according to a formula, 6,000 clients demanded fair hearings."So as we do this," he said of iBudgets, "we expect numerous fair hearings."He said the formula has not been finalized and that recipients would have some flexibility in how they spend their allocations."Im a lot more optimistic this year," Detert said, "because theres more honesty and truth-telling in the building than Ive seen in years."
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