Florida ARF Applauds Governor DeSantis for Signing Budget Supporting Floridians with Disabilities
Tallahassee, FL (June 21, 2019) Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed his A Bold Vision for a Brighter Future Budget that demonstrates his commitment to helping Floridians, including those served by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). The budget includes $1.4 billion to serve APD customers. Budget highlights include the following:
• $1.2 billion for the APD waiver, which includes $48 million to enroll crisis individuals on the waiver and fund significant additional needs and $28.7 million in recurring funds for increases in Residential Habilitation provider rates to increase the pay of Direct Care workers, and
• $56.8 million to cover previous year waiver expenses.
Florida ARF is so pleased that the Florida Legislature and Governor DeSantis approved a 5.75% rate increase to fund wage increases for direct care staff working in Residential Habilitation group homes! While we had pushed for similar increases for direct care staff working within Adult Day Training sites and for Personal Supports providers, we remain appreciative of this year’s accomplishments. President and CEO Suzanne Sewell said, “Florida ARF and its member agencies are pleased the Legislature and Governor DeSantis took such affirmative action to enhance the wages of Direct Support Professionals who provide quality care for individuals with significant disabilities. On behalf of provider agencies and the individuals they serve, we say thank you to our legislative and executive leaders for responding to the need.”
Florida ARF Participates in Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) Forum Meeting & Focus Group on Adult Day Training and Employment Services Redesign
Tallahassee, FL (May 23, 2019) Florida ARF is pleased to have been a part of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ public forum on Adult Day Training and Employment Services Redesign. Director Barbara Palmer opened the May 23rd session and welcomed more than 100 stakeholders who were in attendance or participating by phone. Consultant Rie Kennedy-Lizotte and Mary Sowers from New Editions reviewed the need for systems changes that would transition adults with Intellectual Disabilities into competitive employment or meaningful community integration activities when employment is not an option. The presentation featured a review of national influences that are shaping systems changes for the mentioned services, including Home and Community Based Services rules and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Lizotte and Sowers reported the national service delivery system for individuals with Intellectual Disabilities falls short of meeting the demand for employment services. According to the presenters, Florida relies too heavily on Adult Day Training services and needs to focus more on employment services for individuals with disabilities. Following the public forum meeting, Florida ARF and three member agencies along with other stakeholders participated in a focus group to discuss how the proposed systems redesign for Adult Day Training and Employment Services could occur. The focus group members discussed positive changes that should occur to improve the services in Florida’s service system. Florida ARF participants in the Focus Group agreed to serve on a workgroup to provide input from multiple stakeholder perspectives. Florida ARF will be tracking the activities of the Workgroup and keep our members apprised of proposed changes.
The Ebb and Flow of the Legislative Process
Tallahassee, FL (April 30, 2019) Since March 5th, we have been watching, tracking, and responding to the “ebb and flow” of the 2019 legislative session. Overall, this session has been less stressful than some. “Waiting to see what happens next” has been the unique feature of this year’s session. We began with Senate and House ICF/IID funding appropriation recommendations in agreement and at a level that should cover provider costs. To date we have not seen substantive legislation or proviso language that would radically alter the service systems that impact individuals with disabilities.
Provider rate increase recommendations appeared early in the Appropriations process for one iBudget service (Residential Habilitation), whereas we sought increases for three services (Residential Habilitation, Adult Day Training, and Personal Supports). In the final Appropriations Conference Committee meeting, Conference Chairs Senator Bradley and Representative Cummings agreed to $28,719,294 in funding for a uniform rate increase for Residential Habilitation providers to use exclusively to increase the salaries of direct care staff. Proviso language for this increase directs APD to submit a report to the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the chair of the House Appropriations Committee by December 1, 2019, that evaluates the impact of the rate increase on the average salary of direct care staff who provide residential habilitation services. Florida ARF will be working with APD and stakeholders on the implementation of this increased funding and tracking and keeping members apprised of the process.
While we did not receive an increase for the three services in our platform, we are very appreciative for the funding we did receive this year when the climate in Tallahassee was to curb healthcare spending. Florida ARF says “thank you” to everyone who worked to educate their lawmakers on the need for additional funding to increase direct care staff wages. Finally, a special “Shout Out” goes to our Government Relations Consultants Ron Book and Kelly Mallette who work so hard on our behalf!
Florida ARF Recognizes March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
Tallahassee, FL (March 20, 2019) Florida ARF joined with other stakeholders to recognize March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness month. We were pleased to attend Governor DeSantis’ March 12th Cabinet and support the Agency for Persons with Disabilities as our Governor presented a resolution declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in Florida. President and CEO Suzanne Sewell, along with Florida ARF and RESPECT of Florida staff, participated in DD Days at the Capitol on March 20th, and many of our members were in attendance. Sewell encouraged attendees to educate their lawmakers on the hiring crisis providers are facing and to explain the need for wage increases for direct care staff so they can earn fair wages. Following the DD Day events, Florida ARF member agencies met with their lawmakers and attended forum sessions to review policies and concerns with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Agency for Health Care Administration, and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The above initiatives were all great opportunities to raise awareness about the needs of individuals with disabilities.
Florida ARF & Stakeholders Support Employment of Individuals with Disabilities
Tallahassee, FL (February 20, 2019) Today, Florida ARF and other stakeholders attended the Florida House of Representatives Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee to support testimony provided by David Darm from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Darm explained the state of employment for individuals with disabilities and encouraged the Committee members to support options that assist individuals in achieving their employment goals. Florida ARF dba as RESPECT of Florida was pleased that one of the success stories featured was an individual who received a RESPECT microenterprise grant. According to President & CEO Suzanne Sewell, Darm’s testimony was well received by Committee members and helped raised awareness about the barriers confronting many individuals and their families who want to work.