HARC Cries “Foul” Over Florida Cuts to Funding for Adults with Disabilities

Service cuts in Florida decrease daily care for many adults with disabilities, many of whom are at risk of harm if left alone. Families endure even greater financial hardships.

Tampa, FL, June 13, 2009 --(PR.com)-- Recent decisions by Florida courts and state bureaucracies have alienated thousands of adults with disabilities from the services that make their lives and those of their families manageable.

Here are the facts, summed up by the CEO of Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers (HARC), Richard Lilliston, MSW, who said “HARC is a community nonprofit organization serving Tampa Bay since 1953. With a mission to support individuals with disabilities to reach their potential, our agency focuses on building everyday lives for people with disabilities.”

Two Years of Cuts Culminate in Decision Affecting 4,800 Individuals and Families Statewide
In 2007, The Florida Legislature passed a law requiring the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to assign everyone on its waiver program to one of four tiers, each with an annual dollar cap. APD, rather than using an “objective and valid assessment process” specified by the Legislature, instead developed tier assignments in an arbitrary manner that reduced services to 7,500 of 30,000 individuals served.

“The last two years have been really difficult for those with family members who, due to their disability, cannot completely take care of themselves,” said Lilliston. “Services have been substantially reduced for many people and their funding continues to be stripped away.”

Appeals Denied by the State for all but 600 of the 5,500 Who Filed
Of the 7,500 whose services were reduced, 5,500 appealed their tier assignment. Most filed their appeals within 10 days and, by Florida law, their services are frozen in place until the appeal is resolved. Of these, only 600 individuals were granted hearings, the rest were informed by letter that they were not eligible for a hearing.

Fast-forward to the Memorial Day Massacre
At a meeting three weeks ago, APD staff instructed support coordinators to make cuts for the 4,800 people whose appeals were turned down to get them under their new caps, no later than June 1. According to Lilliston, this decision will undoubtedly initiate a downward economic spiral for these individuals and their families – many of whom already have extenuating circumstances to cope with in life.

“Forget my position as a social services agency director,” Lilliston said. “As a member of our society, I don’t know how we can let this happen. It is disgraceful, and if a large company came out and said they were going to release 4,800 nursing home residents into the street to cut costs, the entire nation would hear about it and people would be appalled. This is no different and the recent decision to make these drastic cuts will devastate these people and their families who have no one left to turn to, especially in this economy.”

A Real-world Lesson in Basic Arithmetic
The following example illustrates what has transpired for those individuals whose tier assignments effectively reduced service levels:

A fictitious client “Margie” received services amounting to $43,000 in 2007. She was then evaluated by APD and placed in Tier 3. Her future funding is now capped at $35,000 under Tier 3. Tier 2 would have capped her at $55,000. The reason for the tier assignment and reduced funding is a mystery to Margie and her family, who realize that the $8,000 difference paid for Margie’s day program, which, in turn, provided supervision for her and enabled her parents to work.

Now, APD and the state have saved $8,000, but Margie’s mom has to quit her job to take care of her during the day. The family now earns less income, so they lose their home or their car and eventually become (a) homeless, (b) without medical insurance, (c) in need of food stamps, or (d) all of the above.

So, what is the sum total of the savings? Well, after you consider the legal fees APD spends defending its position (about $4.5 million or so) and the cost of future social services for the family under circumstances (a), (b), (c), or (d) above; it is a net loss for society. Now, multiply this by about 5,000 families in the state.

“This is unconscionable,” said Lilliston, “We should not yank away services from people who cannot take care of themselves in the first place, and we certainly should not make decisions that lead people to poverty and homelessness. In the end, we all lose.”

Lilliston encourages people to let their thoughts be known by contacting their respective elected representatives in Tallahassee.

For more information about HARC, please call 813-273-6364 or visit www.hillsarc.com.

About HARC
HARC is one of the oldest and most respected charities serving people with disabilities in the Tampa Bay Region since its founding in 1953. HARC is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization founded by parents of children with mental retardation to provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers
Julie Heidelberg