United Way of Palm Beach protests budget cuts listen09/05/08 Seán Kinane
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In 2007 the Legislature approved a plan that will limit the amount of state aid going to some people with disabilities when it goes into effect on Oct. 15. Now, a United Way chapter is asking its members to fight those changes.
Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) serves the needs of state residents with developmental disabilities through waivers for services, including Medicaid waivers.
Melanie Etters is communications director for the APD.
“Currently the APD provides waiver services through two waivers, but the majority of people that are served received services in an uncapped waiver and the reality is that that has created a deficit with this agency for the past several years. And the Legislature felt that if we were able to have some limitation on the amount of money that a person receives for services, then the agency could have some predictability in how much money it would spend each year in providing services.”
The budget shortfalls led the Legislature to approve a four-tiered system with different caps on benefits. The APD reviewed all 31,000 Floridians with developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and spina bifida and assigned each person to one of the four tiers. Letters were sent to all of those people to let them know how their waivers would be affected, Etters said.
“Three of the four waiver tiers have caps; they have financial limits, which is a new concept for our customers. And out of the 31,000 people that receive services through APD, about 7,500 will have to reduce some level of service because of financial cap.”
Etters said the APD used specific factors to decide how each person would be assigned to one of the tiers.
“It is very specific criteria based on various things like whether the individual lives in their own home, or if they live with their family, or if live in a group home so there are a variety of factors and also the level of [medical] need of that person, whether their physical/medical condition is considered intensive, or moderate, or just mild. So there are many, many factors that determine which tier the individual will fall into.”
The United Way of Palm Beach County is encouraging people whose services will be reduced because of the new tiered system to appeal, according to Scott Badesch, its president and CEO.
Badesch said he also wants to send a message to the APD that cutting services to people with disabilities is not the way to balance a budget.
Etters said people have a right to a fair hearing with an administrative law judge who does not have the power to overturn the law, only to rule whether the law was applied correctly.
We anticipate that we will have some individuals who will file for fair hearings. ... The law has been passed and it’s been on the books for more than a year and so this effort will not change the law. The tiers will go into effect on Oct. 15th.”
Tre Littlefield is director of Government and Media Relations for PARC, which is an organization in St. Petersburg serving people with developmental disabilities. He estimates that more than half of the 400 PARC clients who now receive a Medicaid waiver will lose benefits under the new system.
Littlefield said that after the tier system goes into effect, some people who receive services from PARC will be taken care of in group homes, but others will see their services drastically cut.
Littlefield expects people to receive letters from the APD this week or next telling them which tier they fall into and whether they might lose services. They have 10 days to appeal the decision to the Division of Administrative Hearings.
Littlefield said PARC is seeking attorneys who are willing to provide pro-bono or reduced rate assistance for people whose benefits are capped.