My Turn: House Republicans would send developmental disability wait list into stratosphere

For the Monitor
Published: 4/23/2017 12:23:27 AM

In 1991, New Hampshire was the first state to close its institution for individuals with developmental disabilities. All Granite Staters have a right to be proud of the closure of Laconia State School, which acknowledged the right of our residents with developmental disabilities to live meaningful lives in the community.

Since 1991, however, we have not always lived up to our obligation to provide the community services that Medicaid authorizes and for which the federal government will pay half. The sad result is that a number of vulnerable individuals have been forced to wait for services when they turn 21.

In 2007, the Legislature finally made good on its promise to eliminate the developmental disability wait list and fully fund services through Medicaid. This was a great day for New Hampshire.

Over the past 10 years, sadly, the state’s track record has been mixed. From a high of 270 people waiting an average of five months to receive services, the number of people forced to wait in limbo was virtually eliminated.

Then the Great Recession hit, and the 2011/2012 budget did not keep up with the demand of disabled adults eligible to receive services. By the next funding cycle, the wait list had ballooned again, reaching an all-time high of 288 individuals who were again waiting months for services.

Over the next four years, increased funding brought the size of the wait list back down temporarily, but now it has swelled again. The Department of Health and Human Services predicts that by June 30, when the current budget cycle ends, 250 individuals with developmental disabilities will be wait-listed due to inadequate state funding.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget added a total of $57 million in state and federal funds to the developmental disabilities program. The Department of Health and Human Services believes it is enough to serve most of the individuals who will be in line waiting on July 1. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to also provide services to the 200 additional residents who will turn 21 over the next two years and qualify for disability services.

According to department figures, the governor’s budget would result in approximately 230 residents on a wait list by the end of the next two years. Some of these individuals may get some level of services, but some would get none at all, and none would get the full range of services for which they are eligible.

The House budget would have made the developmental disability wait list significantly larger; in fact, it would have been the largest ever, since the Legislature declared there would no longer be a wait list at all. This is because the House budget took $7 million of the governor’s recommended $57 million increase and dedicated it to raises for direct service providers. These raises would be essential for attracting and retaining workers. Unfortunately, the House budget did not provide the funding for the raises, so the budget for services would effectively have been $7 million less than as introduced by the governor.

If the House budget had passed, the impact of not funding the raises would be a developmental disability wait list that could reach as high as 380 people by June 2019. That’s 100 more than the highest level we saw during the Great Recession.

During a time when the economy is healthy, it is shameful for us to accept New Hampshire having the biggest wait list for services since before we proudly declared the end of the developmental disability wait list. Let’s hope the state Senate is not as willing as the House Republicans were to turn away from some of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens.

(Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua is the House deputy Democratic leader.)

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