DHS Calls Off Cuts to Services for Disabled Children

The state agency said costs-per-case have stabilized and come under budget, allowing the agency to hold off on limiting the number of kids who can receive in-home supports that allow them to live with their families.

Oregon's Department of Human Services has called off plans to cut off enrollment to its disability assistance programs after the agency found other ways to make $13.3 million in budget cuts elsewhere.

Lilia Teninty, the director of the Developmental Disability Division, told a group of lawmakers Monday that the costs per case for disability services have come in about $6 million under budget and the state could receive another $6 million from the federal government for improving its information technology system. The state also trimmed $1.3 million from its provider contracts.

The federal government will still have to approve the boost in funding for the IT system, with a decision from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services anticipated next month.

Last summer, the Legislature approved a budget directing DHS to make $12 million in cuts in its Developmental Disabilities Division to help stem escalating costs to the state agency.

The agency responded with a proposal in September to cap the number of middle-class children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who can receive in-home supports, creating a waiting list for children in households above 138 percent of poverty, or about $35,000 for a family of four.

Republicans and Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, protested this proposal and Gelser thanked Teninty this week for finding money to fill the budget gap elsewhere.

“A lot of folks were worried about losing program support,” said Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, who called it a top priority for her constituents.

“We do think the rising costs were the result of pent-up demand caused by years of kids not getting services,” Teninty said. Before the state adopted the Affordable Care Act’s K Plan in 2013, just over 300 kids received in-home supports each month. That number has increased tenfold to 3,291 children as of November. Meanwhile, the number of disabled children receiving costlier residential care has decreased from 700 to 600 kids a month.

Examples of in-home supports in the current program include relief care for family caregivers; training for parents to assist their child; help preparing meals and bathing the child; and help with behavioral challenges. The in-home services cost about $1,500 per month per child versus $10,000 a month for residential care.

The leveling of costs per case may provide evidence of that, but Teninty warned that the savings could be temporary, and the state may still have to scale back services in the future. The Legislature would still have to sign off on any changes that cap services.

Gelser promised a “noisy and rambunctious conversation” before that happened.

Reach Chris Gray at  [email protected].

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