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Scott says he won't cut APD's budget if legislature comes up with the money

By Sascha Cordner

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-962941.mp3

Tallahasse, FL – Governor Rick Scott visited the Agency for Person with Disabilities Tuesday, just two weeks after he ordered deep cuts to disability service providers to cover the agency's 174-million dollar deficit. But, As Sascha Cordner reports, the Governor says he is working with lawmakers to consider other solutions.

Governor Rick Scott and Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll addressed a room full of employees who work for the Agency for Person with Disabilities, after taking a tour of the agency.

"First off, you don't have an easy job. Nobody in this room has an easy job, You have a very important customer, a very important people you need to take care of. There is never enough money and the expectations are awfully high and I know everyone of you works very hard to take care of as many people as you can and not waste taxpayers money."

This comes after Governor Rick Scott issued an Emergency order about having to make a 15 percent rate cut to close the agency's 174-million dollar gap, which means a reduction in payments to health care providers who care for the developmentally disabled. But, The Acting Director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities Bryan Vaughan says it was necessary.

"In order for us to remain viable, we had to go forward with the Emergency rule. We're looking at a 170-million dollar deficit and there's a state law that says we can't run a deficit and we had to get the spending under control and the Emergency rule was the best way of doing that."

But, Scott says he would remove the Executive order if lawmakers are able to give the agency the needed funds to make the full payments.

"We came up with an emergency order to solve the short term problem. So, we have a choice. The legislature will either provide us the funding or continue with the Executive order. If they provide us the funding, then we'll withdraw the executive order, and then we'll be able to go back to the rates that we're making providers."

When it was Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll's turn to address the employees, she says the Governor's office really wants the first-hand input of employees on what they can do to make everything run much smoother.

"We would like for you guys to be a part of the process in how we can bring about better programs, better services, also with our community providers make sure they're doing the right things to bring a self-sufficiency, self worth to individuals to provide some sort of stepping stone for them to get employed, for them to feel good about themselves, for them to know they are a part of our society that is totally productive."

But, Janice Phillips, a Coordinator in Tallahassee working with persons who are developmentally disabled, says what people need to realize is this is more than just a rate cut for providers.

"You know, for people for example, that may be living in their own apartments, but they need to have supports daily if we have to make changes for those people, for example, they can't just live with one roommate, they have to live with two roommates, there's a trickle down affect .those people have bought their own homes and if they can't get the supports they need that's in jeopardy."

Phillips says the Governor visiting the APD was a step in the right direction.

"I think that was a very positive move for the Governor to do because I think that one of the things that would be very helpful would be to get a better understanding of the program itself and kind of the impact of making any change within the program."

Phillips says even as she herself has been making reductions to the services she provides, she remains positive to see what the Governor and the lawmakers will ultimately do with the services provided by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

"They need services, They deserve to have a good quality of life and they are some of the most vulnerable people in our system and I really always believe in the good of every individual and I think the governor and the legislature will try to do the right thing."

And, The Governor says he wants to make sure that they do make the correct decision in this process as well as look into what can be done to avoid a deficit as bad as this one.

"As we've got to make sure this does not continue, as we all know this was the worst year being the 174-million dollars over but it's been going since the Agency started So, we've got to come up with a funding mechanism and a management team that's going to make sure that we take care of this vulnerable group of people, but also make sure we live within our means."

The Governor ended his visit with the employees and thanked them for their hard work.

"I'll do my best at trying to make sure that I know you work very hard making sure that whatever changes there are, whether it's pension or compensation or anything like that, you have the opportunity to fulfill your dream and be paid, and be compensated fairly and be recognized for what you do, because everyone in this room wants to succeed and I know you do."

The Governor says his end goal is to work on making sure the agency would run as efficiently as possible and to try to work in the best interests of the people of Florida.