Hayden Blasts Democrats for Planning to Cut Services to Disabled Kids
The Oregon Department of Human Services is moving ahead with plans next summer to start limiting the number of disabled children who can receive in-home supports, drawing a sharp rebuke from Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Cottage Grove, who cried that the decision will “tear these families apart.”
“This is not a cost-saving plan,” Hayden said. “Who is driving this?”
Starting in July, the DHS plan will force about 50 to 60 children entering the program to sit on a waiting list each month, according to Developmental Disabilities Director Lilia Teninty. It will still take children if the parents qualify for Medicaid, but keep out children in families above that income level, about $35,000 for a family of four. The plan also currently would not affect children already receiving help and new children needing residential care would not be made to wait.
The cap on the number of disabled kids the state would serve would not save a lot of money in the short-term -- about $300,000 in the current biennium. But that could grow to $3 million in savings in the 2019-2021 budget.
“Out of a $21 billion [DHS] budget, I don’t know how you can’t find funding for this,” said Rep. Knute Buehler, a Bend Republican who is challenging Gov. Kate Brown in next year’s election.
Oregon will need special permission from the federal government to implement the waiting list through a special waiver, which DHS plans to submit early next year.
In-home services average about $1,500 a month, versus about $10,000 per month for residential care, which Hayden said made this policy decision fiscally counter-productive. Some children will inevitably be pushed into residential care if they were not shut out of the cheaper in-home supports, which their families cannot afford to pay on their own.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, chairwoman of the Joint Budget Subcommittee on Human Services, said she was tasked with finding cuts in the DHS budget of $25 million, which she later pared back. The budget required an unspecified $10 million in cuts, which caused DHS to suggest the waiting list for in-home supports to start meeting that requirement.
“This is not a direction that overall our DD system wants to go,” said Teninty, referring to the services for people with developmental disabilities. “But because of budget constraints, this is the direction we are going.”
Teninty said the agency first tried to limit services to existing clients, including live-in caregivers, who are now required to be paid overtime -- a budget-busting expense. But the agency was sued by Disability Rights Oregon and had to scale back those plans.
The agency then looked for ways to limit the number of people who could receive services, leading to the idea of re-establishing a waiting list for any families who are not living in or near poverty. In 2013, the state adopted the Community First or K Plan, which gives anyone with a qualifying disability any of the help that they need to perform the activities of daily living.
“This puts us back to where we were before the K Plan,” she said. Before the new, richer programming took effect, only about 800 disabled children received assistance from the state. After the adoption, that soon ballooned to 3,000 to 4,000 children -- and none of that growth was budgeted for. At the time, DHS had projected that only people on a waiting list would sign up. But many families had been discouraged from seeking services, knowing they would be unlikely to receive services.
For several years, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means, Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, has complained about rising costs in the DHS Developmental Disabilities Division and questioned the sustainability of the K Plan.
But Hayden believes that Devlin’s decision to scalp $10 million from services for people with disabilities was an arbitrary decision, and that Democrats simply let other budget areas take priority. The decision to target services for disabled children is particularly brutal for Hayden, who has a child with a developmental disability.
“These are the people we should be prioritizing,” Hayden said. He argued the rising costs to the program exist because of the backlog that the earlier cap had created. “That’s a reflection of how poorly we’ve done for disabled children. We’re finally making up for the neglect we’ve had for the past 20 years.”
He also criticized so-called “pork-barrel” projects that the Legislature did fund, singling out $1.5 million in lottery bond money for Portland’s Japanese Garden. He said the pork projects get funded first, leaving little money to spare for must-pass budgets for public education and social services.
“We do this backwards. We put pet projects above real priorities,” Hayden told The Lund Report. “This is such a bad idea they have to get a waiver from the federal government to do it.”
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, asked Teninty to find ways to delay the implementation of a waiting list, and encouraged her to follow through on other tools to tighten the budget, including a narrowing of the needs evaluation.
“The consequences of what Representative Hayden speaks about are very true,” she said: “But I know Lilia [Teninty] and I know that’s not an outcome she seeks.”