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With $5B Spending Increase, Inslee Cuts to Disability Programs Leads to Criticism

Advocates Lobby to Restore Funding Before House Releases Budget Proposal

For Tacoma resident Diana Stadden, a state-funded program has enabled her son, David, who is autistic, to benefit from respite care, which placed David with a temporary caregiver from time to time to give Stadden a break from watching after him.

The program was vital in helping Stadden raise her son, who is now 22, she said. Another program would help David find work now that he’s finished with school, and she hopes to utilize it in getting him hired at a Lego store in Tacoma or Olympia soon. Aside from a few jobs volunteering he hasn’t had much to occupy his time, Stadden said.

“When he was in school, he was happy, he was busy,” Stadden said. “Then school ended and he’s been home. He’s bored. He’s gotten more depressed. I can see the change in him.”

But neither program has been well-funded in recent years, and a waitlist of 15,000 families needing similar services has backed up. The Legislature passed a bill last year that would cut that waitlist by a third, using an expanded federal match under the Affordable Care Act to shoulder the burden.

That expansion is now under threat of being cut in half; the slots would decrease by 2,500 in the budget proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in December. Inslee’s budget increases state spending by 13 percent – $5 billion overall, with $2.4 billion in tax increases, shuttering tax breaks or dipping into reserves. So, instead of a waitlist of 15,000 going to 10,000 by 2017, it would shrink to 12,500.

Advocates are pushing House Democrats and Senate Republicans to restore the funding. The House will release its budget proposal in the next two to three weeks.

Inslee’s budget did include funding for a 50-cent-per hour pay raise for supported living providers, who care for adults and children with developmental disabilities, as well as healthcare, which is required under the Affordable Care Act, according to Office of Financial Management spokesman Ralph Thomas.


All told, the budget proposal cuts a mix of state and federal funds totaling $25 million from the Basic Plus and Individual and Family Services programs, which are the programs used by Stadden, policy and advocacy coordinator for the Arc of Washington state. The proposal diverts $13.3 million in state funds and about $12 million in federal funding out of the programs.

It would spend $33.8 million total, including $16.9 million of state funding, to give all supported living providers health care. Another $20.7 million, including $10.3 million of state funding, goes to give the workers pay raises, according to Thomas. The budget includes $900,000 to expand respite care.

Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and the budget writer in the Senate, helped spearhead the legislation that expanded each program, along with Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline. He criticized Inslee’s decision as failing to prioritize families who care for adults or children with developmental disabilities, and didn’t understand why funding would be cut in a budget that increases state spending by $5 billion.

“About once a day, I will have someone in my office saying the governor cut me,” Hill said in an interview last week. “It comes down to priorities. I’ve always tried to prioritize the most vulnerable in my budget.”

But Thomas stressed that the cuts were not to existing services, and the governor’s budget increased funding for the provider networks, which help people with disabilities get access to services without having to rely on more expensive state-funded care.

“In building his 2015-17 budget, the governor placed a high priority on protecting services for the most vulnerable – including people with developmental disabilities,” Thomas wrote in an email. “It is important to note that the governor’s budget would increase General Fund-State spending on services for people with developmental disabilities by $128 million, nearly $59 million above maintenance level.”

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina and the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment on the cuts. Sue Elliott, executive director of the Arc of Washington, said her group has been lobbying House Democrats to restore the funding, and believes they will. The House will be the next to unveil a budget proposal, likely in the third week of March. The Senate will follow after that.


Stadden said she considers herself lucky she was able to enroll David in the program, run through the Department of Social and Health Services, when he was nine years old. DSHS capped enrollment shortly afterward, and hasn’t expanded it since, she said.

She said David suffers from behavioral issues, and can act out aggressively at times. Going into grocery stores to go shopping can provoke episodes due to the sensory overload. Having access to the program allowed her to take personal time to run errands, or just catch her breath, she said.

“I was able to have somebody come in with personal care,” Stadden said. “I’m a single parent. I didn’t have any help.”

She’s a parent of one of 20,500 individuals receiving this service statewide, according to a 2013 report from the State Auditor’s Office. But because of “policy choices the state has made,” coupled with a lack of funding, a list of 15,000 parents and families has backed up, requesting service and being eligible for it, but lacking the money to expand.

That changed in the 2014 legislative session, when Hill’s legislation passed, with bipartisan co-sponsors such as Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, and Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. It was voted out of the Senate 49-0, and out of the House 93-4, and signed by Inslee. Kagi sponsored the companion measure in the House.

It expanded the Individual and Family Services program by 4,000 slots by 2017, and the Basic Plus Waiver by 1,000 over the same time frame. Individual and Family Services provides mainly respite care, while Basic Plus looks to find adults who have developmental disabilities part-time employment, among other services.

It also sought to obtain an extra federal match – from 50 percent to 56 percent – by using the Community First Choice Option under the Affordable Care Act, which is set to happen in May. Half of the additional match would go to expanding the Basic and Individual and Family Services Programs, Stadden said.

“The state doesn’t have to pay any more money,” Stadden said. “We cut our wait list by a third and we didn’t cost any more money.”

Elliott said she understands the needs worker have to see pay increases, and to receive health care. She wants the state budget to do both, as well as fund the expansion in slots.

“Because otherwise, they have nothing and just drop off the face of the earth when that bus doesn’t come by and pick them up any more,” Elliott said.

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