State residents with intellectual disabilities could start moving into new apartments and group homes as early as July now that the state Legislature has added $4 million in funding for such placements, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Developmental Services said.
In approving a state budget Saturday, the General Assembly agreed to the new funding to move some clients off a waiting list for residential placements, Joan Barnish, the DDS spokeswoman, said. The legislature also added $600,000 to DDS' budget for 2014-15 for more grants to provide support to families whose children or grandchildren have intellectual or developmental disabilities, she said.
Each person's individual needs will be assessed, so some could receive services soon while others might wait six months or more into the new fiscal year that begins July 1, she said.
The additional funding came as a relief to members of Our Families Can't Wait, an advocacy group formed in the fall by parents and caregivers of DDS clients.
"I'm grateful for the almost $5 million that has been restored to the budget,'' said Carl Noll, of Fairfield, whose son Eric, 47, has been on a waiting list for a residential placement for about five years.
While the funding will help families like his, Noll said it will not make up for a previous cut to DDS' budget.
"I thank the legislators for (the new funding,) however, the $30 million never should have been taken away two years ago," Noll said. "We can't be satisfied until basically all of the people who need residential care have it."
Noll joined several other parents and caregivers in testifying in March at the state Capitol in favor of a bill that would have dramatically increased funding by $150 million over three fiscal years for group homes and other residential placements. The group said that 3,552 DDS clients were on a waiting list for residential placements as of Nov. 30, including 75 seeking emergency placements and 1,460 ranked as "priority one" by DDS.
After they lobbied at the Capitol with organizational support of a key union, New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, the legislature's Appropriations Committee added $4.4 million to DDS' budget. The amount to address the waiting list problem was dropped to $4 million in the budget approved Saturday, said Lawrence Cook, the press aide for State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford.
The more sweeping bill, which would have forced DDS to come up with a plan to serve all clients who need services, died in the legislature without a vote Wednesday, Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman for 1199, said.
In March, Noll and other caregivers gave emotional testimony about the need to find residential placements for their children. Noll, 70, said he and his 67-year-old wife, Noreen, worry about what Eric, who has autism, will face when they can no longer care for him.
"I fear his happy days are going to end,'' Noll said. "I hope I'm wrong."
Barnish said DDS will evaluate its clients in residential placements now to determine if they are in the least restrictive, most appropriate setting. As early as July, DDS may also move some people on the waiting list to residential settings as it develops more choices for clients, including supportive housing, she said.
With the new funding, some people will move to group homes or their own apartments with support services, and some will stay with their families but receive more support, Barnish said.
DDS officials are waiting to see the final budget to determine how many clients can be moved or helped, she said, as well as how to distribute the new funding. A priority will be helping those in emergency situations, she said.
"DDS is always working towards resolving those especially urgent situations that have an emergency priority," she said.
The $600,000 for family grants will help those families caring for children or grandchildren with developmental disabilities in their homes, Barnish said. The grants vary in amount but average about $1,700, she said. The largest number of grants provides respite care or other temporary personal care for clients in their family's home, but DDS also funds ramps for houses or provides specialized supplies to families, she said.