Consultant tells House committee to boost disability employment funding

Kansas spends less than 1% of developmental disabilities budget on work programs

By Megan Hart, February 11, 2016

Kansas should shift some of its funding for people with developmental disabilities away from day services and toward work programs, a consultant told the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.

Kansas spends about $4.3 million on employment support services, which is 0.8 percent of its total budget for services for people with developmental disabilities, Stephen Hall of Griffin Hammis Associates told the committee during a Tuesday hearing. Shifting 11 percent of funds from non-employment day services would provide about $9.6 million for employment programs without requiring additional taxpayer investment, he said.

The numbers were specific to programs for people with developmental disabilities, but the state could take a similar approach for people with physical disabilities or mental health conditions, Hall said.

Kansas was a leader in investing in work opportunities for people with disabilities in the 1990s, Hall said, but other states have since passed it in committing dollars to work programs. The result is that Kansans with disabilities are less likely to be working in a non-segregated setting than they are in other states, he said.

The state spends about $3 million less on work supports for people with disabilities than it did in 1995 in raw dollars, Hall said. After adjusting for inflation, investment in disability programs is down 90 percent, he said.

The problem isn’t necessarily that Kansas hasn’t spent money on people with disabilities or has kept them in institutions, Hall said, but that it has spent more on community services that aren’t related to employment.

Shelby Fry, director of Topeka-based TARC Industries, said the state has reduced its investment in employment over the years, but she is concerned about making up that investment by taking funds from day services and sheltered employment.

TARC provides supports for community-based employment, sheltered employment and non-employment day services for people with developmental disabilities, and each type of service has a group of clients who prefer that option, she said.

“I’m not sure it’s realistic to think you’re going to be able to take enough from one (service) to subsidize the other,” she said.

Fry said if the Legislature does pursue changes, it does so slowly and with input from people with disabilities. People should have a “menu” of options to choose from, she said, and not everyone would benefit from being transitioned to community-based employment.

“I’m not sure these 108 people (working in TARC’s sheltered workshop) will be able to get the same number of hours in community employment,” she said.

Mike Oxford, executive director of the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, said he supports additional resources for employment but has concerns about funding it with money now used for other services to people with disabilities. Some people who use day services are at retirement age, he said, and some have disabilities that are significant enough that they aren’t likely to be hired unless employers’ views on accommodating workers change.

“We don’t want to reduce capacity and reduce quality for one group to benefit another group ever,” he said.

Advocates and government programs have set a goal of reducing the number of people with disabilities in “segregated” settings where they interact primarily with other people who have disabilities and professionals serving them, Oxford said. Working alongside people who don’t have disabilities and earning at least the minimum wage is the ultimate goal, he said, but policymakers need to be careful about cutting other types of supports while people with disabilities still face barriers to that goal.

The proposal from Hall of Griffin Hammis Associates, a Montana-based consulting firm, would increase payments to providers for vocational rehabilitation and employment support services paid for by Medicaid to $44 per hour. The current rates are $40 for vocational rehab and $12 for Medicaid services, meaning providers lose significant amounts of money when they provide services and can’t afford to hire the most skilled professionals, he said.

The state also could take steps to better assess each person’s needs, give the person or his or her guardian control over which providers to use, draw down additional federal money and give providers additional direction on how to use employment funds they receive, Hall said.

“We want a person- or family-centered system,” he said. “When you give families and people with disabilities choice, they’re going to choose providers who get something done for their sons and daughters.”

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to when a story is reposted online.

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