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.