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State Disability News Highlights

By Diane McComb posted 02-12-2016 03:37 PM


State Disability News Highlights for Period ending 02/12/2016


Lead Story:  New York

Leadership from NYSARC predicts devastating financial consequences on the field if a Medicaid funding solution is not included as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $15 minimum wage proposal. NYSARC is the largest not-for-profit organization in New York State supporting individuals with disabilities and their families. St. Lawrence NYSARC, which serves about 750 clients, closed one workshop in Hermon last year, consolidated some services, and has cut its workforce from about 620 to about 580 through attrition over the last few years. In testimony submitted to the Joint Legislative Hearing of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees on the budget, NYSARC Executive Director Steven Kroll said: “The governor’s proposal contains a serious flaw that threatens the financial viability of an entire field of caregivers and the people and families those caregivers support. Without a Medicaid rate increase in the state budget, not-for-profit providers will need to absorb $270 million in increased labor in year one and $1.7 billion in added labor costs by 2021. Such an unfunded expense will be devastating for the field, consequently leading to employee layoffs, and diminishing the quality of care to tens of thousands of New Yorkers with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and neurological impairments.” In his testimony, Kroll recommended the appropriation of $270 million in the state budget to fully fund the first year increase in the minimum wage for employees working for not-for-profit developmental disabilities agencies. The workers include more than 100,000 direct support professionals, preschool aides/assistants, and other support professionals statewide who provide hands-on supports 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He also recommended appropriating $120 million to fund a 3 percent cost of living increase for these workers. “The state needs to meet its statutory obligations to support people with developmental disabilities and proportionately fund the not-for-profit developmental disabilities sector with the same wage increases that have been already established for fast food workers and are proposed for all workers in the state budget,” Kroll said. To read more -



Gov. Robert J. Bentley came to the state's richest city Friday to speak to an audience of some of the state's best, brightest and most successful people about a problem the state has been neither successful, bright or best at solving--poverty. It's a problem that some of the successful men and women attending Friday's annual meeting of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama once knew only too well in their young lives, including Bentley's. "I could have been a statistic," said the 73-year-old Bentley who grew up in Columbiana, the son of a sawmill worker. Both of his parents never finished high school. "I didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing until we moved to Columbiana and I was in grammar school. I didn't even hold a tooth brush until I was six years old. I brushed my teeth with a sweetgum brush," Bentley told the audience of several hundred at the Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham. But Bentley said he had two things in his life that allowed him to escape poverty. "I had two things going for me. Number one, I had a set of parents who loved me unconditionally and they believed in me and they encouraged me," said Bentley. "The other thing I had was this: I had an opportunity. And that opportunity primarily dealt with the people who taught me in school and who cared about me. I had mentors, people who walked along beside me, and stayed with me all the way through." Bentley said as governor he can't necessarily change the family situation of children but the state can do far better in providing opportunities to students to escape poverty by improving not only the quality of education but in providing students and their parents greater help in navigating the cultural, social, bureaucratic and financial barriers to completing high school and moving onto postsecondary schooling to pursue job training or a college degree. To read more -



Disability advocates are protesting Arizona legislation they describe as shocking, insulting and discriminatory. Senate Bill 1284 would allow an individual to file a discrimination lawsuit alleging a business is not in compliance with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act only after first having a lawyer give the business written notice and then giving the business 60 days to come into compliance. "The disability community vehemently opposes this bill," said Phil Pangrazio, Ability360 president and CEO, who uses a wheelchair as a result of a spinal-cord injury. "It encourages business to continue denying access to individuals with disabilities until someone notices." The bill passed the Senate Government Committee 4-3 with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it. It now advances to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, sponsored the bill. He said the intent is to prevent lawyers from trying to use allegations of inaccessibility to shake down business owners. He said attorneys have filed hundreds of lawsuits in Arizona and California alleging hotels aren't in compliance. Kavanagh said there have been situations where individuals will call hotels, ask if they have certain accessibility items such as a swimming-pool lift or toilet-paper rolls at a certain height, threaten a lawsuit if they say no, and then offer to go away if the hotels pay up. Kavanagh said he has an acquaintance who manages a small hotel that was recently sued because the pool doesn't have a wheelchair lift. "He's being sued for $5,000 because of the mental anguish suffered by a victim who never even checked into the hotel," he said. "That's the game. Lawyers are extorting money from hotels for very minor violations." Kavanagh said the bill still allows lawsuits to correct deficiencies, "but without being a cash cow for lawyers who apparently seem to be interested in making this a revenue raiser." The bill would prohibit an individual or his or her attorney from demanding money from a business before filing a lawsuit. Pangrazio said businesses are being sued because they continue to violate a federal law that's been on the books for 25 years, a law that assures individuals with disabilities have access to the same businesses and services everyone else does. "Senator Kavanagh thinks having access to a pool lift or a toilet-roll dispenser is a trivial matter, but I don't find that a trivial matter," he said. "Why are the civil rights of Arizonans with disabilities being targeted? It's shameful. It's an insult." To read more -



The signs of influence were there: About 30 legislators showed up at a rallying point Wednesday as dozens of parents of children with intellectual disabilities prepared to fan out through the Capitol complex and press lawmakers to resist $47 million in proposed cuts to services. The consensus in the crowded meeting room Wednesday was that parents, schooled by advocates to become their own champions, have in recent years fully conveyed what they see as an unjust system that favors expensive, outmoded state institutions serving a fraction of the population. Now, having gained considerable influence at the Capitol, particularly with nearly 70 legislators on a disabilities caucus they helped to create, the challenge is to turn access into actions that take fundamental programs — job supports, day services, in-home help for families — off the budgetary chopping block. Leslie Simoes, executive director of The Arc Connecticut, set a tone that was echoed by several legislators. She said families are grateful that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy identified a stalled line of more than 2,000 people waiting for services as a top priority, but that cuts to the Department of Developmental Services contained in Malloy's proposed budget "could be devastating." "Your voices are loud and clear," Rep. John Hampton, D-Simsbury, a co-chair of the legislative caucus on intellectual and developmental disabilities, told the audience of parents and clients. "We have fallen asleep thinking of your faces and the faces of your children and the stories that we've heard from you," Hampton said, having listened to families in their living rooms and at Capitol public hearings. He was asked later if he can support Malloy's proposed budget and at the same time temper the deep cuts to human services that it contains.



By age 45, she had spent 43 years in Central State Hospital – confined for life, it seemed, in Georgia’s most infamous psychiatric institution. But in 2012, with Georgia under a court order to move people with developmental disabilities out of state hospitals, officials found her a new home. She continued to require intensive care for her disabilities. Still, for the first time, she would be part of a community. Less than a year later, she was dead. The woman, identified in court papers as “B.B.,” was one of 503 disabled people released from state hospitals since 2010. She also is among the 79 who died after moving into group homes and other community-based facilities – and one of an undetermined number whose deaths may have been caused, in part, by lax state oversight. Georgia not only failed to ensure quality care, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, it disregarded the growing death toll, keeping disabled people in continued peril.  “Numerous reports, assessments and reviews developed by the state’s consultants have repeatedly identified systemic failures,” the Justice Department said recently in court documents. “The state has long been on notice of these deficiencies and recommendations of how to fix them. It has not.” Federal authorities say the deaths show the state has not complied with a 2010 agreement in which it promised to transform services for people with developmental disabilities and severe mental illness. That agreement settled a federal investigation into reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that dozens of patients in Georgia’s seven state psychiatric hospitals had died under suspicious circumstances. The federal government found that Georgia was violating the civil rights of people with physical and mental disabilities. Now the Justice Department wants a federal judge to hold the state in contempt of court and to order measures to protect the former hospital patients. A hearing is scheduled for March 28. State officials dispute the Justice Department’s conclusions but declined to discuss them in detail before the hearing. To read more -



A budget crisis at state-owned hospitals has left some long-term care patients in the lurch. And a citizen's group is asking lawmakers to help fix the situation. Leahi and Maluhia hospitals cut 76 beds last year, discharging a handful of residents, and also let 42 employees go. Hawaii Health Systems is asking lawmakers for $21 million for all of its facilities. Some of those funds could help maintain present services and prevent more cuts at Maluhia and Leahi. But a citizen's group wants the bed count restored. "There's 25 percent fewer hospital long-term care beds now," said Vanessa Chong, of Protect Leahi and Maluhia Ohana. Chong collected 5,300 signatures for a petition urging lawmakers to give the hospitals $10 million more than they're asking for. "What's most disturbing to us families is the potential reality of possibly more cuts happening," she said. Hawaii Health Systems Oahu Region CEO Derek Akiyoshi said it's a tough situation. "We've shared a number of times with our families and with our employees the financial dire position that we're currently facing," he said. The daily care cost per resident is about $400. But Medicaid reimbursements cover only about $200 a day. To read more -



Indiana pro-life legislators are resurrecting a bill to protect unborn babies from being discriminated against in the womb because of gender or a genetic abnormality. The state Senate passed the bill Tuesday in a 35-14 vote, according to the Indy Star. Indiana Senate Bill 313 would ban abortions if the sole reason a woman seeks one is because of her unborn baby’s gender or a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. The bill also would require that parents of unborn babies diagnosed with a fatal anomaly receive information about perinatal hospice; however, it does not ban abortions in these cases, according to the report. “[The bill] sends one clear message to the nation and to our fellow Hoosiers, and that is that we value life,” said state Sen. Travis Holdman, who co-authored the bill. Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, applauded the state Senate for passing the bill and urged the House to approve the bill and send it to Gov. Mike Pence’s desk. “Indiana has a historic opportunity to protect unborn children with disabilities by extending civil rights protections preventing these children from being aborted solely on the basis of their disability,” Fichter told LifeNews. “Our society does not tolerate discrimination against people with disabilities who have already been born, and neither should we tolerate such discrimination against unborn children.” To read more -



Louisiana’s already grim budget outlook got even worse on Wednesday. The panel that identifies the state’s projected income again lowered its expectations for the budget year that ends June 30, as well as the fiscal picture for the following year. State legislators, who are gearing up for a budget-focused special session this weekend, will now have to come up with about $850 million in cuts to state services or new revenue to balance the current year’s budget and more than $2 billion for the budget that begins July 1. “For all practical purposes, Louisiana is in its own recession,” said Greg Albrecht, the Legislature’s chief economist. “It’s come on pretty rapidly.” The Legislature will begin grappling with the bleak budget outlook with just a third of the budget year remaining, so state agencies and higher education leaders have noted that any cuts will be even more pronounced over the next four months. The Revenue Estimating Conference unanimously agreed that dips in corporate income and sales tax collections and falling oil and gas prices have been the major blows to the budget, and across the board, the tax collection outlook is sluggish. The state is operating at a net negative on corporate income taxes — meaning it is paying out more in rebates than it is taking in as revenue. “I’ve never seen corporate numbers this weak,” Albrecht said. The formal projection from the Revenue Estimating Conference is that collections will fall about $542 million below what was projected when the budget was adopted. On top of that, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration says former Gov. Bobby Jindal underfunded other programs, such as Medicaid, public schools and the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, by another $300 million. Edwards said he believes the real shortfall for the current year is likely to be about $943 million when other underfunded agencies are counted. To read more -



Disabilities rights groups called on lawmakers Wednesday to support a bill that would eventually eliminate a sub-minimum wage law that discriminates against employees with disabilities. The bill, referred to as the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act, HB 420, would prohibit the Commissioner of Labor and Industry from allowing sheltered workshops and work activities center employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. Currently, the commissioner issues certificates that permits this practice. The legislation is designed to phase out this policy relic from the 1930s over the course of three years and nullify those certificates by Oct. 1, 2019. “The Equal Employment Act is very important for the civil rights of persons with developmental disabilities,” said Ken Capone, the public policy director for People on the Go. “No other group in our society is treated this way.” The U.S. Labor Department reports 36 Maryland organizations hold section 14(c) certificates making them eligible to pay 3,469 workers subminimum wages. But none have applied to the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to do so, as Maryland requires. So it is not clear how many of these organizations actually pay subminimum wages. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 approximately 145,000 individuals with a disability were employed in Maryland, about half full time. Approximately 24,400 individuals with a disability were unemployed, and 167,500 were not in the labor force. The median earnings of a Maryland worker with a disability was $27,072, while the median earnings of a worker without a disability was $40,583. While testifying before a crowded hearing of the House Economic Matters Committee, Capone, who types in words into a computer to speak, called the current labor law a “civil rights issue” and referred to his experiences working in a workshop. After completing high school and receiving computer training from Johns Hopkins, Capone wanted to work in the computer field. However, after the state service system could not support him to find a job, they sent him to a workshop where he ended up doing assembly work. “I don’t know how they expected me to do that,” Capone said. “Do you know how demeaning it was going to a sheltered workshop after completing a difficult program and class?” To read more -



After years of searching, Bradford Teslow thought he had finally found a job that would pay him a livable wage and offer him a shot at advancement. In 2013, a large disability services organization, Opportunity Partners, offered Teslow, 58, a position at a new state-of-the-art packaging plant in Bloomington. Teslow, who has cognitive disabilities brought on by two head injuries, leapt at the opportunity to prove himself on an assembly line among people without disabilities.  But when he applied for a vacant position as a site supervisor last June, he was flatly denied. Instead of getting an interview, Teslow says he was told in passing one day that his application would not be considered because of his status as a “client,” or “person served,” at Opportunity Partners. “It was hugely demoralizing,” Teslow said. “The message was, ‘Once you’re a client, you’re always a client.’ There’s no way to move up.” Now Teslow is accusing Minnetonka-based Opportunity Partners of discrimination in a formal charge filed with the state Department of Human Rights. The case underscores the precarious position of hundreds of Minnesotans with disabilities who rely on disability agencies for on-the-job training and other vocational services. Despite performing real work for real wages, they often are stuck in a legal limbo, unable to fulfill their ambitions because of their status as service recipients. Bradford Teslow arrived at his job at a warehouse, where he applied for a better position but was told he’s a “client,” not an employee, and wasn’t eligible. In a 12-page response to Teslow’s charges, Opportunity Partners said it denied his application for confidentiality reasons, and not because of his disability. The agency said it hasn’t considered any clients’ employment applications since rolling out a new electronic records system in 2012. The system can’t shield clients’ private medical data from co-workers — potentially violating federal privacy laws, the agency said. Teslow also lacked auto insurance, a basic requirement for the job, the agency said. Referring to the situation as “exceedingly rare,” Opportunity Partners said Teslow is the only client to apply for an unsupported staff position in the past three years. “Although many of the persons served … at Opportunity Partners perform real work, are paid wages and earn some benefits (such as PTO), they are not ‘employees’ ” as defined under federal law, the agency said. To read more -



Minnesota's effort to shift primary care from treating illness to improving patient health is paying off — handsomely.  A University of Minnesota evaluation of so-called "health care homes" shows the team-based approach to care has saved state and federal taxpayers $1 billion. The evaluation also found that health care homes improve the quality of care. The cornerstone of the health care home concept is better coordination of care. The idea is that a clinic provides its patients a home base for health care and helps them navigate the health care system. These state-certified clinics strive to provide the right care at the right time and place.  The findings on asthma patients were particularly impressive, said Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota health commissioner. The evaluation showed that health care homes are much more likely to implement asthma action plans. Evidence shows that those plans help families reduce asthma crises that require hospitalization. "That was one that really stood out for me," said Ehlinger. "If you have asthma, you're twice as likely to reach your goal in asthma in a health care home as in a non-health care home."  Health care homes also outperformed other primary care clinics on quality measures for diabetes, depression and heart disease. The university's analysis found that health care homes significantly reduce spending on hospital stays. And, when their patients are hospitalized, their length of stay is shorter than it is for patients treated in uncertified clinics. Overall medical spending for enrollees in health care homes was 9 percent lower than costs for enrollees who received care in uncertified clinics.  The Legislature requested the evaluation of the program, which grew out of the state's 2008 health reform efforts.  To read more -



The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors selected five states and communities to collaboratively build healthy communities specifically designed to include people with disabilities. Butte and Helena were the only two Montana communities selected. The project is called Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities. Kristina Burnaby is one of those who will be helped from the project.  She has cerebral palsy, which doesn't slow her down much. "I work here four days a week, and then I go to cooking class Wednesday nights, and that's pretty fun," said Burnaby. "I like to go to the movies." She said it's sometimes difficult for her to get around. "I feel like I'm being limited into where I can go. Some places, it's hard for my chair to get into," said Burnaby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities. The group gave $22,800.  Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer Karen Sullivan and Butte Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator Todd Hoar will be trained on how to include people with disabilities in the community and how important those projects really are. To read more -



State agencies, already required to cut spending by 3 percent because of lagging state revenue, were told Monday those reductions will have to be deepened. In December, state officials declared a "revenue failure," meaning that as the state suffers through an oil bust, it is not taking in enough money to maintain current spending levels.  The revenue picture has become even worse since then, state Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said. "The monthly General Revenue Fund report to be released tomorrow will show collections fell significantly below the estimate in January," he said in an email Monday to agency heads. "Please be advised that the 3 percent reduction to monthly general revenue allocations must be deepened beginning in March." He said the exact size of the reduction won't be known until a new revenue report is released at a Board of Equalization meeting on Feb. 16. He also said the Legislature could make further cuts. Committee takes initial steps on tax reform amid revenue failure  Doerflinger said the situation is similar to 2010, when the state last had to declare a revenue failure. Then, allocation cuts had to be adjusted multiple times over several months. “The situation back then was constantly evolving, and the situation we face now will likely unfold in a similar manner,” he said. Increased cuts come as bad news to agencies reeling from the earlier cutbacks.



Speaking before a sea of lawmakers, Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday christened his $33.3 billion budget proposal with a warning of impending financial catastrophe that "was no act of God," but instead the fault of uncompromising politics. Wolf's budget plan for the 2016-17 fiscal year starts where he left off last year without success: a clarion call to fix the state's deficit and add more money for education by increasing taxes. Wolf's proposal would raise an additional $2.7 billion by increasing taxes on workers, smokers, gamblers and natural gas drillers, among others. He also would add new sales levies on some consumer purchases that now are not taxed, such as cable television and movie tickets. In making his pitch for new revenue, the Democratic governor also unloaded a verbal barrage on House Republicans. His criticisms — including telling unyielding lawmakers to get a new job — could make Harrisburg's budget gridlock worse, at least in the short term. As he has for months, Wolf blamed the majority House GOP caucus for blowing up a budget deal he and Senate Republicans worked out in December for the still-unfinished 2015-16 budget. The state's fiscal woes are math problems, not partisan problems, that can only be solved with new taxes, Wolf said. Lawmakers cannot cut their way out of a deficit that will hit $2 billion by July 2017, he said. So compromise, he said, or get out. "If you won't take seriously your responsibility to the people of Pennsylvania — then find another job," Wolf said. Wolf and the Legislature never reached accord on last year's spending proposal, leaving the state seven months into a fiscal year with no full plan in place. Only Illinois suffers from similar budgetary gridlock. With those thoughts and wounds still fresh, Republicans criticized Wolf's speech as unnecessarily harsh and said it set a bad tone for coming budget talks. To read more -



The Tennessee State Senate “unanimously approved” legislation Monday on creating a Care Alert system for missing adults with disabilities. The system would enable local law enforcement agencies to enter a report to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and alert media outlets to promote the safe recovery of a missing person over the age of 18 with an intellectual, developmental or physical disability. Sponsored by Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) extends the definition of a “missing citizen” from a missing person over the age of 60 with dementia or physical impairment to include those over the age of 18 with an intellectual, developmental or physical disability.  “We already have the framework through the Amber Alert Program for missing children and Silver Alert Program for senior citizens with dementia or Alzheimer’s,” said Green. “Like these programs, this legislation calls on local law enforcement agencies to work in tandem with the media and transportation officials in alerting the public when a person with intellectual or physical disabilities is missing.”



90 members of the Wyoming Legislature will gather Monday to begin hammering out a new state budget. It’s a process that repeats every two years. But this session is different. Revenue from oil, gas and coal is dropping. The state faces a $477.4 million projected drop in revenue in the accounts that fund state agencies. The accounts that fund school construction and operation also face huge funding gaps. Programs that Wyoming residents depend on could be slashed. Cuts in areas such as schools could shape Wyoming’s future. Many interests will be competing for a smaller pot of money. “I’m hearing a lot more from legislators who want to be much more involved in the budget process than we’ve really been in the past,” said Rep. Mary Throne, the leading Democrat in the House. “We don’t want to just let it be a decision for the (Joint Appropriations Committee, which first sketches the budget). We want to own the budget, regardless of your political (persuasion).” In December, Gov. Matt Mead recommended program cuts, Medicaid expansion and using money from the state’s $1.8 billion rainy day fund — repaid with severance taxes — to fill the shortfall. In January, the Joint Appropriations Committee recommended additional cuts, while borrowing $310 million from the rainy day fund. Lawmakers also nixed Medicaid expansion, despite the governor’s support for the program. Harshman’s committee recommended cutting some programs and eliminating others to shore up money, he said. One cut was to a Department of Health program that provides low-income elderly and disabled Wyomingites a refund on the money they spend each year in sales and property taxes and utility and energy costs. The Joint Appropriations Committee recommended cutting it in half, saving about $3.8 million. “All the agencies ranked their programs,” said Harshman, a Republican from Casper. “It was the lowest ranked in the Department of Health’s mission.” There are 85 agencies in state government. The Wyoming Department of Health is the largest in terms of the amount of state money it uses to operation programs — about $500 million a year, Harshman said. Harshman’s committee proposed cutting most agencies across the board by 1 percent for the first year in the two-year funding cycle, and 2 percent the second year. The so-called penny plan will save the state $28.2 million for the two-year funding cycle, Harshman said. After the committee voted to nix Medicaid expansion from the department’s proposed budget, it proposed saving money by not funding some of the Health Department’s one-time exception requests.