Feb 17, 2012

Fl Senate chairman Joe Negron unveiled plan to increase APD's waiver funding to $887 million.

Senate health and human services budget chairman Joe Negron this week unveiled the details of a budget that would increase for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, plugging the agency's funding shortfall and boosting funding for the Home and Community Based Services Waiver to nearly $887 million.

The plan would exceed the funding level and increase waiver funding by more than $75 million over the previous year's appropriation. The funding increases, as well as some amendments added Thursday, helped smooth the way for an agency-backed bill that passed the Health Regulation Committee unanimously on Thursday afternoon.

Advocates for the disabled have raised concerns that SB 1516 would limit the services the agency is required to provide by law, but their concerns were mollified by amendments added Thursday and signs that Negron and APD Director Mike Hansen are willing to work with them.

Negron, R-Palm City, said that while "one aspect" of the bill would be protecting the agency from lawsuits, his goal is to cure the agency's chronic budget shortfalls.

"Even if you're doing the lord's work, you have to live within your means," he said.

Changes approved by the committee would revise the agency's mission in the bill to include supporting the people it serves in "maximizing their independence" and broaden the array of services available to meet people's "extraordinary needs" under the new iBudget funding algorithm.

Phillip Hall of the Leon Advocacy and Resource Center, which serves people who rely on the waiver, said the combination of amendments and funding increases for the agency made the bill "a lot better, a lot more palatable."

A common refrain among advocates who testified before the panel was that they remain concerned about what services will be preserved when the iBudget gets implemented.

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, the top Democrat on the health care appropriations panel, has criticized the cuts other parts of the proposed budget, but said the funding increase for APD is "encouraging."

"I think we're moving toward consensus," Negron said.

The bill does not yet have a House companion, but Negron said there are conforming bills that could serve as legislative vehicles for the changes, which will be determined in budget conference between the chambers. If the bill becomes law, some of the changes would have to approved by the federal government because they are funded through Medicaid.