Advocates: Keep Unspent Money Within Agency To Serve Intellectually Disabled [Courant]

February 17, 2016

Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — More than 2,100 people with intellectual disabilities are waiting, in some cases for more than 20 years, for residential or in-home services, yet the responsible agency routinely returns several million dollars in “unspent” money each year to the state’s general fund, where it disappears.

Tuesday, advocates, parents and legislators testified in support of a bill that would keep unspent money within the Department of Developmental Services, where it could be used to reduce the waiting list. The proposed bill was raised in the General Assembly’s public health committee.
For $1 million annually, 10 people can receive services, advocates said.

In the current fiscal year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget department has held back $9.2 million that the legislature approved for DDS — a practice through which an administration tries to get state agencies to do more with less. If those funds are not released, as happens, then the money “lapses,” or goes unspent, and doesn’t benefit the agency.

The DDS waiting list has drawn increasing legislative attention over the last year because advocates have hammered home the point that people on the list never move up. The only way to get a residential placement in a group home, or year-round services at home, is for the caregivers, usually parents, to die or become incapacitated.

All state departments are under an edict to return unspent money that the legislature budgeted, and several hundred million dollars can flow back to the general fund.

For this reason, Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, questioned whether the legislature could pass a law for DDS, and not the other agencies.
The gist of the testimony in response to Kane’s concern was that the state created the waiting list and has failed to act on the promise implicit in telling people they are waiting for something.

“It’s a grave situation,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton. “People are not moving off that list.”

She added that, in any case, giving departments more money than they use “is a strange way to budget,” and she said the practice should be reconsidered.

Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, the legislature’s minority leader, said, “We have let these families down.”

He noted that the trend for several years has been to provide for people in community settings, not in institutions. Letting the department keep its unspent money is a good way to accomplish that, he said. DDS spends a disproportionate amount of its budget running the remaining institutions, which serve only a fraction of the agency’s clients.

Money can lapse, or go unspent, for a variety of reasons. Money can be held back and then lapse. Also, for an agency like DDS with a billion-dollar budget, it is fairly common for several million dollars to go unspent if savings are realized in a certain area.

In fiscal year 2014-15, state departments returned a total of $193.6 million. In 2013-14, the figure was $393.6 million.

“It’s unconscionable to return funds that you put there,” parent Walter Glomb of Vernon told lawmakers, “if you have people whose needs are not being met.”

Glomb, a businessman and adjunct professor of management, is the father of Nick, 27, who has Down syndrome.

“Your budget decisions are really being reversed if money is coming back into the general fund,” said parent Tom Fiorentino of West Hartford. “There are families who are no longer able to cope and they are looking to you.”

Fiorentino is a retired assistant state attorney general and co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on the Waiting List. His son, Dan, has an intellectual disability.

Leslie Simoes, executive director of The Arc Connecticut, the state’s largest coalition of advocacy groups, told the panel that DDS has not received new funding for residential placements in 20 years, with the exception of a $4 million allocation that advocates and parents fought for in 2015.

She said there is deep support for this bill in the community because it doesn’t call for added money, just better use of funds that were already given to the department.

The Arc sued the state over the waiting list in 2000. Under a settlement, DDS in the early 2000s substantially reduced the list. But the effort expired and the queue has ballooned again in recent years. As parents age, the stalled waiting list has become a crisis.

The bill would have to be approved by the legislature’s appropriations committee.