In principle, performance review hearings are about looking back – but in reality, they represent the first opportunity that advocates have to weigh in on the upcoming budget season. That was very much the case on February 16, when advocates turned out to testify before the DC council’s Facilities and Family Services committee on the newly formed Mayor’s Office of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing (MoDDHH), the Office of Disability Rights (ODR), and the Department on Disability Services (DDS). As has usually been the case, DDS came last, but unlike most years, the hearing, which began around 2:30, ran until close to 8 p.m. by the time the committee chair, Janeese Lewis-George (Ward 4), had completed her questioning of Andy Reese. My focus here is on DDS, although there was a great deal of interesting discussion with respect to MoDDHH and ODR, as well.
I shared my February 16 testimony in an earlier blog post, but it will be well worth your while to watch advocates’ testimony, some of it, from Project ACTION! members, about 35 minutes (35:00:00) from the beginning of the hearing (video of Feb 16 performance hearing), and the rest beginning a little before minute 3:20:00 of the video. As always, the Q and A with Andy (5:07:00 of the video) was especially interesting in setting the stage for further discussion on the DDS budget for FY 2024 (beginning October 1 of this year). In general, I was impressed that Lewis-George and her staff had really done their homework before the hearing. She asked very good questions and saw important connections to the work of other agencies and council committees. Here are some highlights (see organizations and terminology page for any unfamiliar terms):
- Sandy Bernstein of DRDC and other advocates had raised the issue of DDS delays in establishing people’s eligibility and getting services underway since the DDERAA came into effect in October. Although Andy Reese cited multiple reasons for these slowdowns, Lewis-George was adamant that DDS must find a ways to speed up the process.
- Lewis-George picked up on advocates’ calls for the DC government to become a model employer of people with disabilities. She asked about existing models (the Georgetown UCEDD is leading the charge in studying options), asked about RSA’s role, and pushed Reese to hold other DC agencies accountable for setting hiring goals and creating career paths.
- Many advocates called attention to the fact that people receiving residential supports from DDS receive a flat $100 monthly personal needs allowance that has not been raised to keep up with inflation since 2007. Lewis-George asked Reese what was being done about this, and he said we first will need to see whether the mayor puts money into her budget to cover the cost, after which it will be up to the DC council.
- There was significant attention to the need for better on-the-ground collaboration between DDS and DBH, since an increasing number of people served have dual diagnoses, and for DDS to have a better understanding than is sometimes demonstrated about the nature of DBH services and supports. Although Reese said there are regular meetings with DBH at the management level, Lewis-George encouraged him to ensure this translates into peoples’ support experience.
- Advocates also called attention to DDA staffing shortages and the need to ensure prompt and complete funding of wage increases for DSP staff.
This year has been a turning point for DDS, and the revision in eligibility requirements brought on by passage of the DDERAA will require shifts in the response by DDS and its provider agencies to the people they serve. You will have another opportunity to weigh in with testimony on how DDS budget resources should be used in FY 2024, at the DDS budget hearing March 29, 2023. You should be able to sign up soon, at https://janeeseward4.com/testify/. Make sure you do it!