Disability rights advocates say a plan to revamp administration of a key program is now moving in the right direction. Florida Republican Sen. Aaron Bean has taken the lead on changes to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities in an attempt to stop decades of budget deficits. Advocates say changes to Bean’s proposal aren’t perfect, but they’re better than where he started.
The new version of Bean’s proposal backs away from the privatization of service coordinators who deal directly with disabled Floridians and their families and keeps all budget and billing processes within APD. Now the bill places limits on certain services such as supportive living coaches, residential living and personal support assistance. APD would have to submit quarterly reports to the governor and legislature that include projected surpluses and deficits.
Disabled Floridians have a right to institutional care. And there are too few such facilities and group homes. To address that, the The measure lifts a state requirement to prove a need before long-term care facilities for people with disabilities can be established.
Disability Rights Florida’s Olivia Babs believes repealing certificate of need for intermediate care facilities is a backward move.
“These are institutions. And there is an inadequate network of intensive behavioral group homes, so we’re not giving people a choice of where they want to live," says Disability Rights Florida's Oliva Babas. She believe repealing Certificate of Need for Intermediate Care Facilities represents a step backward.
"ICF’s are not the least restrictive environments, they’re the most restrictive environment that we can put an individual in.”
Typically, ICF facilities won't serve people with severe behavioral disabilities and Bean says he's trying to provide more options, not fewer. The average cost of institutional care is $135,000 a year. It could be more than that for group homes.
Most of the comments on Bean’s revised plan were mostly positive. It’s designed to contain costs within APD. This year, the agency is $107 million in the red, and has run deficits for more than a decade. But Ven Sequenzia, head of the Autism Society of Florida, says there’s a big issue that remains unresolved: the proper funding of the agency.
“You keep saying ‘live within our means’. That’s unfair," he says. "If you look at your own budgeting over the past 17 years you can plainly see there’ve been multiple cuts in services and provider fees. Also, APD has never been included in the budget estimating conference. Blaming the agency for budget shortfalls the legislature caused is unfair.”
Sequenzia says the state has spent billions of dollars on tax breaks when it could have used that money to fund APD.
At the onset of Tuesday’s committee hearing, Bean addressed the funding issue saying, "Regardless of what we talk about in healthcare, money is the issue…everyone wants more money. Particularly in healthcare, there’s not enough money to go around. So we do our best to ensure that every dollar is put to use wisely.”
Bean says APD is likely to get a bigger budget this year, but notes it’s still starting from a hundred-million dollar hole.
Concerns with Bean’s plan remain. However, the Senator says its either his bill or the alternative.
“I’ll be honest with you. There’s still no companion in the House. We’re still in negotiations with them. With your yes vote today, you give everybody the chance to keep the conversation going.”
And that’s what it comes down to. Either the Senate’s plan or the possibility the House will push to privatize APD, which disability rights advocates don’t want to happen.