Two Funding Strategies for Two Different Budget Scenarios
By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services
It’s budget time in Maryland and Pennsylvania and we at Penn-Mar are watching the proceedings with great interest while putting our advocacy strategies in place for both states.
In Maryland, our advocacy will evolve around “promises made and promise kept.” Governor Hogan’s 2017 budget was short on mandatory funding increases for staff serving Marylanders with developmental disabilities. So instead of including a mandatory 3.5% wage hike to the Developmental Disabilities Administration, the budget was reduced to 2%.
Our end goal is to get that funding restored and we will be joined in that effort by our human services agency partners in Maryland and the parents and families of the individuals we support. We anticipate an uphill climb but our position on the mandated 3.5% wage increase is clear – this is not an option; the state needs to make good on their promise.
At Penn-Mar, we don’t look to the government as the answer to all of our needs, but we do view them as partners and the state’s mandate is to care for and provide resources for the most vulnerable folks in our society. It’s a promise that must be kept.
In Pennsylvania, we are heartened by the 2017 budget released last week by Governor Wolf. In a very difficult year, the Governor made intellectual disability and autism funding (ID/A) priority areas in the proposed budget. Our advocacy approach in PA will be to ensure that the proposed funding remains in the budget.
It’s apparent from the proposal that the message was received about the need to address the low wages of Dedicated Support Professionals (DSPs) and no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, it’s hard to argue that these essential workers deserve more than a minimum wage for the valuable services they provide.
The proposed closing of the Hamburg State Center – where services cost $409,000 per person per year – will begin the long-overdue transition to cost-effective community integration and services.
This move will save millions in the long-run but will require considerable upfront costs as individuals become more involved in community opportunities and their support needs evolve. We support this move and if fact support the closing of the additional state centers as well as people’s lives should be spent in community settings with the supports necessary to ensure a meaningful life. One can only imagine how different the community integration model will look like in 15 years if the financial resources are invested responsibly and appropriately.
Some of the highlights of Governor Wolf’s proposed budget that are most important to the Penn-Mar mission include:
- $54.7 million to provide for rate increases from the renewal of the waiver program;
- $109.7 million to provide for increases in utilization and costs;
- $15.4 million for the Community Living Waiver to create a new program for family caregivers to ensure 1,000 individuals currently on the waiting list can continue to live at home;
- $8.5 million to expand services for individuals with disability to provide home and community-based services for 820 students graduating from special education – a figure that is projected to cover every such student this coming year;
- Funding to begin to transition individuals from the Hamburg State Center to home and community-based services;
- $9.3 million for new community participation services from the renewal of the waiver program;
We are pleased the Wolf Administration is beginning to take DSP wages seriously. We are also very encouraged that this year’s proposed budget would assist students graduating out of the school system to find supports necessary to continue a meaningful life.
Adequate funding from both states will ensure that Penn-Mar Human Services can continue to provide innovative programming and staff development and retention, initiatives that are critical to the continuing care of the individuals we support.
On the proactive front here at Penn-Mar, our 24 DSPs who are now working toward Certification and merit bonuses — and our fundraising efforts to expand this program in the years ahead — coupled with our robust initiative to increase starting wages for new staff, are the best investments we can make to continue our mission of transforming life into living.