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Budget Ball Now In Legislature's Court

Harrisburg Capitol with the text Budget Ball Now in Legislature's Court
By Steve Suroviec, President and CEO

Headshot of Steve SuroviecOn February 8, Governor Tom Wolf unveiled his budget proposal for State Fiscal Year 2022-23. This will be his last budget since he is in his eighth and final year as governor. When it comes to funding home and community-based services (HCBS), Governor Wolf has had some good budgets during his eight years. And he has supported the closure of Pennsylvania’s outdated state-run institutions, going so far as to veto legislation that would have kept such institutions open. Governor Wolf deserves credit for his position on institutions and for advancing some strong HCBS budgets during his tenure. Yet, eight years later, the intellectual disability and autism (IDA) system hasn’t changed much – it’s essentially in the same position it was when Governor Wolf took office. The IDA emergency waiting list still exists, and nonprofits that provide HCBS continue to struggle when it comes to attracting and keeping Direct Support Professionals (DSP) given the low rates paid by state government.

Low rates paid by state government and its failure to increase rates in a timely and consistent manner are nothing new, but this year things are different. Wage inflation and a contraction in labor participation, not to mention the higher costs for fuel, food, housing, and staff benefits such as health care, have exacerbated the problem that low rates present to providers.

The glass half full view of Governor Wolf’s 2022-23 budget proposal is that it includes new funds to support over 832 new people from the IDA emergency waiting list. And the budget includes the funds necessary to cover the cost of the state’s most recent rate increase (which will take effect retroactively to January 1). However, even if 832 new people are served, there are another 4200 people still languishing on the emergency waiting list, and there’s a distinct possibility that providers won’t be able to hire new DSPs to serve the people coming off the waiting list. 

Moreover, advocates like The Arc of Pennsylvania and provider associations like The Provider Alliance (TPA) and the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association (RCPA) have been arguing for months that the state’s recent rate increase is insufficient to truly address the DSP crisis. About $65 million in additional state dollars is needed to bring the state’s rate proposal up to a level where disability service providers can effectively compete with the wages being offered by for-profit businesses going after the same talent.

As they say, “the governor proposes and the legislature disposes.” The Governor has proposed his budget, and it’s now with the General Assembly so they can put their mark on it. Disability providers are pleading with the legislature to add the additional $65 million necessary to give them a fighting chance to hire and retain sufficient DSPs so that the needs of Pennsylvania’s IDA population can be met. To learn more about this issue and/or to communicate with your state representative and senator, go to the following sites sponsored by The Provider Alliance and RCPA/The Arc of Pennsylvania.

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