AUGUSTA – Hundreds of developmentally disabled Mainers who have long been on waiting lists for key support services will receive funding for home- and community-based care under an agreement ratified early Wednesday by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.
The unanimous agreement is part of a $30 million budget deal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. If approved by the full Legislature, the $5 million care provision will leverage additional federal funds to reduce or eliminate two waiting lists for approximately 300 disabled young and middle age adults, including approximately 70 priority individuals who qualify for 24-hour home-based care and who would otherwise be institutionalized. Also included are about 200 people who will receive community and employment support services to ensure that they remain engaged in public life.
Mary Lou Dyer, director for the Maine Association for Community Service Providers, said the agreement would help some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Dyer said the funding will likely delay the need for intensive, and more expensive, 24-hour home-based care services for people who often suffer from intellectual disabilities and are frequently cared for by aging or elderly parents – some of whom have had to quit their jobs to take care of loved ones.
The care provision was part of a budget deal that lawmakers struck during the early morning hours Wednesday. It stands as one of the most significant proposals in the budget agreement and an abbreviated legislative session thus far dominated by partisan debates that will play into this year’s legislative campaigns.
The waiting lists have been thrust into one of those debates, as the LePage administration has used them to bolster its case against expanding Medicaid health care to more than 60,000 people through the Affordable Care Act. The administration has repeatedly said that the state should not expand Medicaid when it cannot provide funding for already eligible people who are waiting for services.
The budget committee’s agreement is not expected to change the Medicaid expansion debate. LePage vetoed the expansion bill Wednesday, setting up at least one override vote in the Senate either this week or next.
The administration has not submitted a budget plan to address the wait lists. The governor has also declined to participate in the current budget process, because lawmakers rejected his budget proposal last year and then overrode his veto of the budget enacted by the Legislature.
Although that budget included $10.4 million to fund services to residents on the waiting lists, hundreds of individuals still remained without services.
Nonetheless, the governor on Wednesday submitted a bill that would fund the wait lists by cutting state aid to municipalities — funding that LePage has attempted to axe before but widely rejected by the Legislature. His proposal has yet to be referenced to a legislative committee, but could affect Republican support for the plan approved by the budget committee on Wednesday.
According to Dyer, Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, played a key role in ensuring that the waiting lists were funded in the budget plan adopted early Wednesday morning. Flood worked with other members of the budget panel to develop what Dyer described as “imaginative” funding mechanisms to address a problem that has dogged the Legislature for several years. The waiting lists were also the subject of a court action last year that effectively compelled the LePage administration to cover the qualified recipients, some of whom currently receive only some of the care services for which they qualify.
Funding for the budget bill is derived through a variety of savings initiatives, including $20 million by extending some Medicaid reimbursement payments to Maine’s hospitals into the next fiscal year, $3 million in savings from payment audits of Medicaid providers and $3.5 million in unspent funds through the Finance Authority of Maine, the House Opportunity Maine and Dirigo Health.
Also funding the bill are savings within the state’s Medicaid program achieved this year when thousands of adults with children were dropped from the program by the previous Legislature.
Other components of the overall budget deal include $5 million in reimbursement payments for Maine’s nursing homes. In addition, several education programs will also receive funding, including $650,000 for the Bridge Year program, $300,000 in funding for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and $750,000 for Head Start. The budget also gives $750,000 for homestead reimbursements.
“Our bipartisan proposal provides critical funding for our seniors, individuals with disabilities, and for those suffering from mental illness,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, in a prepared statement. “For months, lawmakers have emphasized the importance of moving our most vulnerable citizens off of wait lists for home care. At the same time, we’ve also heard from our nursing homes about the crisis they face, especially in rural areas, where some may be forced to close their doors. We took a responsible and collaborative approach to address both of these concerns.”
Republicans said the budget deal and the proposal to reduce and eliminate the waiting lists reflected improved priorities of lawmakers, a reference to the Medicaid expansion debate.
“If we expand Medicaid, we’ll have to divert this funding away from the disabled Mainers on the wait lists and use it to re-expand coverage to 15,000 able-bodied adults of working age,” said assistant House Republican leader Alex Willette, of Mapleton. “It’s time we get our priorities straight in our Medicaid program and refocus it to help Maine’s most vulnerable people, and this budget is an important step in doing just that.”
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: