June 23, 2015
The highlights of the 2015 special session to deal with the State budget are below. There were many advances made...funding for the waitlist, a small provider rate increase and more dollars for housing. All much needed by the I/DD community.
We were disappointed that an overall provider rate increase did not happen which was desperately needed. Arc chapters and other I/DD provider actually provide the housing, food and basic services to improve quality of life for individuals with I/DD. These services have to be recognized to be every bit as important as paper processing and employment. These are the essentials for quality of life.
In addition, the Governor gave consideration to and vetoed many line items. An overall provider rate increase in the future could prevent the multiple requests for special appropriations in the budget.
Some great things that happened include the following:
Home and Community Based Services: $56 million is appropriated to enroll additional people in the Agency for Persons with Disabilities waiver program and eliminate the waitlist. The waiver offers comprehensive services for persons with developmental disabilities. Total Funding: $994,793,906.
Supported Employment Services: $1 million for supported employment services for persons on the APD waiver waitlist. These funds will assist individuals who cannot be enrolled in the comprehensive program by offering targeted services to assist with employment.
A total of $5 million was appropriated for providers of Personal Supports under the Developmental Disabilities I-budget waiver to receive provider rate increases.
The State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) Program: $48 million is provided for the SAIL Program. Each SAIL development must include between 5% and 10% of its units designed, constructed, and targeted for persons with a disabling condition.
State Housing Initiatives Partnership: $105 million in total funding. Each local government must use at least 20% of its allocation to serve persons with special needs, with first priority for persons with developmental disabilities.
Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act
During the Regular Session, the Legislature passed the Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The ABLE Act eases financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing, and transportation.
This legislation implements the federal ABLE Act of 2014, which was sponsored by Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-Jacksonville). Currently, individuals with disabilities can have a maximum personal savings of only $2,000 before they start to lose federal benefits. The ABLE Act allows an individual with a disability that occurred before the age of 26 to save up to $100,000 for their future needs in a tax free account without jeopardizing state and federal benefits. Those funds could then be used for certain expenses like education, housing, transportation, employment support or health and wellness, enabling the individual to have a higher level of economic independence and hopefully a better quality of life.
Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts: $55 million, including $53.4 million for student scholarships (up from $18.4 million in Fiscal Year 2014-15). PLSA funds support the second year of program implementation, including expansion of the program to include 3- and 4-year old children with disabilities, students with muscular dystrophy, and students with autism under a broader autism spectrum disorder definition.
McKay Scholarships: $228 million to the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program that allows parents of students with disabilities to choose the best academic environment for their children. This program provides eligible students the opportunity to attend a participating private school or transfer to another public school. Funding was increased by an estimated $22.2 million over the current fiscal year.
FEFP ESE Guaranteed Funding: $6.7 million increase in FEFP funding for supplemental services for students with low to moderate disabilities for a total of $830.1 million.
FEFP- Level 4&5 ESE Services: an estimated $31 million increase in funding for services to students with significant disabilities for a total of $379 million.
Early Steps: $13 million increase in funding to serve children 0-3 with suspected or established developmental delay for a total of over $69 million.
Instructional Materials: At least $3 million (of FEFP funding for instructional materials) must be spent by school districts for the purchase of digital instructional materials for students with disabilities.
Workforce Development Pilot Program: $63,998 (of workforce education funds) is provided to fund an Adults with Disabilities Workforce Education Pilot Program in select Florida counties.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services: $216 million in state and federal funds are set aside to ensure education and employment services for adults with disabilities are prioritized and improved.
The Inclusive Transition and Employment Management (ITEM) Program: $750,000 provides young adults with disabilities with transitional skills, education, and on-the-job experience to allow them to acquire and retain employment.
Johnson Matching Gift Program: $772,500 to the Johnson Scholarship, which is a competitively awarded program available to undergraduate students with disabilities with financial need who enroll in a State University System of Florida institution.
Florida Housing Finance Corporation: $10 million is provided for a competitive grant program for housing developments designed, constructed, and targeted for persons with developmental disabilities.