Monday, June 3, 2024

Will Disabled People Bear the Brunt of Shared Sacrifice?

The last time I wrote, we were waiting for the mayor to release her FY 2025 budget.  That “Shared Sacrifice” budget (FY 2025 "Shared Sacrifice" DC budget),  which is now in the hands of the DC council, contained cuts to the DDS budget that generated considerable concern at the May 2 hearing before Councilmember Janeese Lewis George’s Committee on Facilities and Family Services (Video recording of May 2 committee hearing, with testimony by public witnesses about DDS beginning about 2 hours into the hearing, and DDS director Andy Reese’s testimony starting after about 4 hours and 10 minutes.)

With respect to RSA, Reese said that the WIOA requirement to use 15% of federal funds for pre-ETS services, along with the federal maintenance-of-effort requirement to increase local funding by at least a dollar more than in the last complete fiscal year (FY 2023), are placing significant pressure on the RSA budget in FY 2025, but he stressed that RSA funding will be sufficient to meet all anticipated needs.  There was considerable witness testimony about the possibility of inadequate funds for a number of transition programs, but Reese said no reduction in funding for SchoolTalk or the DC Special Education Cooperative was foreseen.  Councilmember Lewis George also questioned Reese on measures being taken to address the many concerns raised about administration of the Randolph Sheppard program for blind vendors in the February performance review hearing.  Reese said that DDS is very close to hiring a new manager for this program and that those concerns are being addressed.

There were also many witnesses that came forward with respect to the DDA budget.  The issues which received the most attention were:

-          The proposal to require people receiving residential supports under the DDA waiver to cover the cost of clothing, now covered through a $600/year clothing allowance, under their personal needs allowance (PNA) instead.  The PNA (monthly spending money) was raised last fiscal year, for the first time in over fifteen years, from the $100/month established in 2007 to $150/month.  This increase was intended to compensate for the lack of any cost-of-living increases (COLAs) throughout those years, and COLAs were to be added to the PNA each fiscal year from now on.  It was pointed out by many that requiring the $600/year clothing allowance to be covered by individuals’ PNAs would essentially wipe out their $50/month PNA increase  put in place with great fanfare just last year.

-   -      A 50% cut in the administrative fee that DDS furnishes to providers of residential supports.  This cut had already taken place, with little advance notice to providers, at the beginning of April, and agencies testifying argued that the proposed continued reduction could have an impact on the quality of services in the future.

Additional issues raised with respect to DDA supports included the fact that, for the second year in a row, there is no COLA in the DDA rent ceiling. (Reese defended the absence of a rent COLA, arguing that the current DDA ceiling is higher than HUD (federal Department of Housing and Urban Development) fair-market rental rates in some DC wards and lower in others; he also said that 70% of people in DDA-supported living live in DC, only 30% in Maryland, and most of those near Metro.)  Wage rates for nursing staff and supervisory staff were also raised as issues needing to be addressed.

Lewis George expressed concern about the proposed elimination of the DDA clothing allowance and the reduction in administrative fees for residential providers, and in subsequent council deliberations she has gotten partial restoration (about 2/3) of each of these.  The first reading of the council’s budget took place on May 29, with the second and final reading due next week.  However, even if the DC council restores some of these funds in FY 2025, the same cuts, and more, may emerge again next year.  DC budgets are projected to be tight over the coming few years, and this is going to demand greater effort on the part of disability advocates (this means you!) in order to ensure that those most vulnerable do not bear the brunt of future cuts. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

New schedule for FY 25 Budget Hearing

You may have noticed that the mayor’s FY 2025 budget was delayed – it’s now expected to reach the DC council on April 3 – see DC council schedule for FY25 budget.  This means that the budget hearings have likewise been delayed, and the hearing for DDS, ODR AND MODDHH (always check terms and organizations for unfamiliar terms) is now going to take place on May 2 – here is the link for this all-virtual hearing:  May 2 hearing.  As of yet, the link doesn’t allow you to sign up to testify, but for now you can contact Sebastian Weinmann at sweinmann@dccouncil.gov to let him know.  [Note (April 2):  You can now register to testify on May 2 at the link above.] It’s going to be a tight budget year, but we are hoping to be able to count on the promised cost-of-living increase (COLA) for the personal needs allowance, and possibly also a COLA for the rent cap for people getting residential supports from DDA.

Also, as we close the book on Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM), here is a photo of the program from last week’s DDAM awards ceremony, and one of DD council’s Kevin Wright emceeing the event:




Wednesday, March 6, 2024

DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES AWARENESS MONTH: CELEBRATE…BUT ALSO ADVOCATE!

Yes!  This is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM), and there’s a host of events that you can find right here:  DDAM 2024 calendar.  Coming right up, next week, are two special things to note:  

  •         First, get out there and celebrate at Lia’s near Friendship Heights, at Quality Trust’s annual Better Together reception, starting at 5:00 on Monday, March 11.  Here’s what you need to know:  Better Together March 11.  DO NOT MISS IT!  I want to see you there!
  •         The very next morning, self-advocates will want to attend NACDD’s Developmental Disabilities Capitol Hill Resource Fair, where you can have their say on an open mic about how the federal government and Congress can help you lead better lives in the community.  It’s 9-11am on Tuesday, March 12, in the Rayburn House Office Building.  More here https://nacdd.org/ddam1/ and register here to speak at the event: Signup for March 12 on Capitol Hill.  Have any questions?  Contact Erin Prangley at eprangley@nacdd.org.

Okay, now everybody – self-advocates and others – Get your advocacy chops on and PLAN TO TESTIFY AT THE DDS BUDGET HEARING ON MARCH 25.  (At the same session the committee also will be hearing testimony on the Office of Disability Rights and the Mayor’s Office of the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing.  Here’s where you can learn more:  DDS budget hearing March 25.  I haven’t yet found signup information, but while you’re getting yourself ready, have a look at this:  Background on the FY2025 DC budget.  And for a little more background in preparation for this hearing, you may also want to listen to the testimony (including mine!) before the Committee on Facilities and Family Services in the performance review hearing on February 23:  Video of Feb 23 hearing.  DDS testimony starts with Project ACTION! representatives at around minute 1:16:00 of the video and ends when DDS director Andy Reese concludes just before minute 5:25:00 of the video, with ODR and MODDHH before and after.  Committee chair Lewis George reminded us at the hearing that this is going to be a tough budget season, so it’s important to get to the hearing and testify about issues such as cost-of-living increases to DDA’s personal needs allowance, rent ceiling and grocery allowances – you can hear me address some of these around minute 1:43:00 of the video, with other witnesses starting around 3:05:00 addressing these and other important DDA and RSA issues.

I know you may not have time to listen to all this, and that’s okay!  What’s important to you?  Step up and testify!  I’ll let you know as soon as I hear where on the DC council website you can sign up to testify on the budget on March 25.  JUST DO IT!

QUESTIONS ABOUT TERMS OR ORGANIZATIONS I MENTION IN THIS BLOG?  CHECK OUT Key organizations and terms – and always let me know in the Comments if I’ve missed one!

Saturday, February 10, 2024

FEBRUARY 23: SPEAK UP ON DDS PERFORMANCE!

In my last blog post of 2023, I reminded readers that the performance review hearings would be coming up soon.  The one for the Department on Health Care Finance (DHCF), which handles Medicaid funding issues, took place on February 8 – you can find the videos here, with witnesses testifying in the morning and DC government officials in the afternoon:  https://dccouncil.gov/video-archive/. 

The DDS performance review hearing (hybrid, in person as well as on Zoom) is scheduled for February 23, and it is not too late to sign up – the easiest way is to contact Sebastian Weinmann In Councilmember Janeese Lewis George’s office at sweinmann@dccouncil.gov.  (Lewis George chairs the Facilities and Family Services committee which oversees DDS.)  You also should be able to sign up to testify at this location:  https://lims.dccouncil.gov/hearings/, although the site has not been functioning well so the above email is a more certain way to get registered to testify. Please, do not expect others to carry your water:  sign up to testify!  It’s important to be heard.

Here are some of the issues that are on the top of my mind as I begin writing my own testimony:

  • The DDERAA law, opening up eligibility for DDA services to people with developmental disabilities other than an intellectual disability, was passed unanimously in March 2022 and began implementation in October of that year.  (See https://lims.dccouncil.gov/Legislation/B24-0268.) DDS now has had over a year of experience under the new eligibility terms, and I am hoping for a very complete review of the experience so far – including numbers of applications; whether any applicants have been declined and if so, why; how long it is taking from application to initiation of services; whether there are substantive changes in the needs of people coming through the door, and other issues of that nature.  If you or your family has had any experience with applying for DDA services since October 2022, it would be especially important for the Council to hear from you!
  • Second, last year it was DDS’ stated intent to raise the personal needs allowance (PNA) for people getting residential supports to $150, and also to initiate an annual cost-of-living increase (COLA) beginning in January 2024. (Listen at minute 47:00 of this recording: https://dds.dc.gov/node/1654616.)  In the end, the PNA was raised, but there was no COLA instituted in January.  It’s clear that advocates will need to continue raising our voices to ensure the PNA increases with inflation each and every year starting next January.  Plan to testify in support of the PNA COLA on February 23 if you, a family member or friend is receiving residential supports from DDA. 

*REMINDER:  IF YOU ARE EVER CONFUSED BY THE TERMS I USE IN MY BLOG POST, TAKE A LOOK HERE:  DC Disability-Related Terms and Organizations. 

  • Third, there’s been a lot of time and effort by DDS and advocacy partners (myself included)  to explore housing alternatives and programs for people with disabilities in DC.  One important outcome of DDS efforts is the newly released housing guide (DDS Housing Resource Guide), on which housing coordinator Pam Johnson gave a presentation in last month’s Friday forum (Pam Johnson's January 26 presentation).  The work that has gone into producing this resource is impressive, but the resulting document is very complex and hard to negotiate without substantial technical advice and assistance.  The challenge now is to give much more thought to which aspects of the guide are especially pertinent for DDS’s core audience of people with disabilities and their supporters.  Are you trying to find good housing options in DC, whether to rent or purchase?  Let the council know on February 23 about the living situation you’re hoping for and what information you need to achieve it.
  • Finally, in my simultaneous roles as active advocate and the mother of someone receiving supports from DDA, I’m sometimes dismayed to see that new decisions and developments proudly announced in meetings led by senior DDS officials do not “filter down” to provider staff, or even to DDA service providers. I’ve seen more than one example of this over the past year, and I’m confident there are others. Something more needs to be done to get the word out and down – through more thorough in-house training, and better outreach through various means. Have you had the experience that your service coordinator or provider was unaware of new DDS policies or other important changes? Let the council know on February 23!

I’m aware that my concerns are focused on DDA, which is only one arm of the Department on Disability Services.  Some of you are more in contact with DDS through its Rehabilitation Services Administration.  If you have had direct experience with DDS/RSA over the past year, now is the time to turn up (in person or virtually) to let the council know what is going well and where improvements are needed.

Again, don’t leave it to others – even if you can’t testify orally, you can submit written testimony – so make sure you raise your voice to the council on DDS performance over the past year!