State Disability Funding Cutbacks & the Effect on Families with Special Needs

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

It is no secret that raising a child with a disability can be very expensive – in addition to the daily living expenses associated with raising a family, parents with special needs also have to factor in additional expenses related to therapies, medicine, childcare, tutoring, etc. In fact, according to a recent Huffington Post article, researchers estimate that the lifetime costs of supporting a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder can exceed 2 million dollars. 2.4 million, to be exact. As parents of individuals with special needs, we need to ask ourselves: where is this money coming from? Savings? Investments? Inheritances? Insurance?

Many families do draw on the above mentioned resources to help fill the gaps between the financial resources they have, and the financial resources they need to cover the day to day costs of raising a child with special needs. There is yet one more resource, however, that we have yet to mention: the government. In fact, for many individuals with special needs, government benefits and programs are their only financial resource. Considering that, then, the next question we need to ask ourselves is this: what happens when the funding for these benefits and programs is cut? This question isn’t too far out of left field, considering that state funding cuts to disability programs are happening right now, all across the country.

Today, we would like to take a moment to discuss these national state funding cuts – focusing on Florida and Illinois where they have already happened – and discuss how the loss of government funding can have an adverse effect on the health, well being, and future success of individuals with disability. As well, for us here are home, we will include a discussion of Maryland’s disability budget and how MD disability spending ranks in relation to the other states. Please join us!

Disability Spending & Cutbacks: A look at Florida & Illinois

Earlier this year, in an article discussing state funding cutbacks to disability programs, author David M, Perry wrote, “Early intervention changes lives. Respite care keeps families together. Both save states money over time.” This we know to be true. As Perry points out, children with access to early intervention services may not need more expensive educational services as they age; respite care provides caregivers with space and time to recharge, and may help to avoid the disintegration of the family in the long term (which, as Perry notes, would result in the individual with a disability ending up in state care.)

In fact, throughout the entire article, titled (rather appropriately) Picking on Society’s Most Vulnerable, Perry tackles ongoing state cutbacks to disability programming, consistently making valid, common sense points. To summarize concisely, the focal point of his argument is this: “Governors are making the wrong choice by aiming to cut disability programs and benefits.” Sadly, this wrong choice is being made in states all across the country – the following two states, Florida & Illinois, serve as perfect examples.

Florida

Let’s tackle Florida, first. This past June, Gov, Rick Scott released the state’s most recent budget, revealing massive cuts to programs and services for individuals with disabilities. In a move that reduced budget by more than 460 million, Scott made 4 million in cuts that specifically affected programs that aided individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Among the organizations affected were Palm Beach Rehabilitation Center, The Arc Volusia, and Easter Seals. Organizations such as United Cerebral Palsy, Special Olympics, and Big Brothers Big Sisters – all serving adults and children with disabilities – also saw cuts to state grants.

Included in the wide-ranging $461 million reduction was an $8 million cut to funding that would allow “children with developmental disabilities to attend job training and post secondary education programs,[1].” This is particularly ironic; in an attempt to lower the state budget, a cut was made to a program that was designed to help adults with disabilities transition into competitive employment and independent living – an outcome that would lower state spending in the long term. Not included in the 460 million, all funding was cut from Adults With Disabilities (AWD), a move that affects 12,000 adults with disabilities.

As is pointed out in the article Cuts hurt Floridians with disabilities, this decision impacts thousands of Floridians with disabilities and their families. Author David James, in his capacity as Executive Director of The Arc Volusia, points out that these arbitrary cuts take away from services provided by agencies serving individuals with disabilities, hurting state and federal “integrated competitive employment” agendas by eliminating educational and training programs. To quote James, “Education and training programs are essential on any pathway to employment. Arbitrary line-item vetoes can’t lead favorable outcomes for the more than 20,000 people on the waiting lists in Florida, or for the people born into this world every day with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Illinois

Next, Illinois: In the article referenced earlier, Picking on Society’s Most Vulnerable, author Perry asserts that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s 4 billion dollar budget slash cuts programs that will actually save the state money in the long run; Perry uses Early Childhood Intervention Programs, which were included in cuts to the Department of Human Services, as an example of how Rauner’s save now policy will result in spending more later.

As Perry writes, “for each dollar spent on programs like Early Intervention, according to studies by people such as the Nobel Laureate James Heckman and the Rand Corporation, the state saves at least $7 in future services. Those savings are, in fact, most likely to be realized most dramatically with precisely the children that DHS is trying to exclude. Children with only mild delays can, with Early Intervention, avoid requiring the more expensive special education services in school when they are older. Everyone wins.”

Let’s look at the cuts to the Department of Human Services, the department which saw (what Perry claims) the most cuts, more closely: DHS, which saw funding cut by 21.8 million, also provides valuable services such as residential living arrangements, in-home supports, and day services for adults with disabilities. Specific programs which are affected service individuals with ASD, and individuals with Epilepsy; the ARC Lifespan saw a grant cut. A whopping 2 million dollars were slashed from funding for DHS Community Services, including programs for children with special health care needs, developmental child education, and newborn hearing screening, among others. It should be noted that the cuts to Early Intervention fall under the cuts to Community Services.

And, as if that were not enough, Rauner’s administration also cut more than 100 million from Medicaid, which provides healthcare services for individuals with low incomes, and individuals with disabilities. Please click here to learn more.

Here at home: Maryland Disability Spending

Let’s take a look at a state a little closer to home for us here at M&L: Maryland. Contrary to the previous two states that we have examined in this blog, Maryland FY 2015 did not see huge cuts to disability spending; according the Arc of Baltimore’s budget fact sheet, there were no cuts to the Developmental Disabilities Administration at all in 2015. In fact one department, Community Services, received a mid-year increase of 4%.

Despite that positive news, however, MD still has a long way to go. The Arc Baltimore points out that in the DDA budget, transitioning youth funding decreased from 9.4 million to 5.1, with expectations to serve the same amount of individuals. The Arc Baltimore also points out that although there have been no cuts there have been very few increases to the budget, with waiting lists continuing to grow. Consider this: last year the number of individuals on the DDA waiting list was 7500. This year, that number has increased to 7700. These lists will continue to grow unless MD’s DDA budget increases.

As families and advocates of individuals with special needs, we need to be constantly looking forward; the services and benefits that we take for granted today may be gone tomorrow. Although MD hasn’t seen the huge cuts to services like the residents of Florida and Illinois are experiencing, the stagnant growth of the Maryland DDA budget doesn’t not reflect the expanding population of individuals with disabilities in the area, nor does it even put a dent into the growing wait lists of individuals looking to receive services. And, looking ahead to next year, Gov. Hogan has already proposed to cut in half the mandated funding increase for DD community supports. (Note: follow the link to learn more).

Again, as families and advocates of individuals with special needs, it is these issues that we should be paying attention to, and fighting – with time and effort now, we can preserve (in not improve) the benefits and services that our loved ones with disabilities will receive in the future.

Would You Like More Information?

Thank you all for taking the time to read our post today! We hope that we were able to provide you with some valuable and useful information. We do have one more message we would like to pass along to you: there is something you can do to combat state cuts to disability program funding – advocacy. Start loud, and start now – by speaking up for change, united, we can accomplish anything. For information on how to begin advocating for a bright future for our individuals with disability, please visit our Advocacy Resource page on our website.

If you would like more information on this topic, or any topic related to financial planning for individuals/families with special needs, please contact us! We would love to hear from you. As well, please take time to browse our website; it is chocked full of useful information, tips, and resources.

Thanks again for dropping by – hope to see you all next week!

[1] http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-scott-signs-budget-20150623-story.html

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