Thursday, June 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Patching Florida's safety net

More than 20,000 Floridians with intellectual and developmental disabilities are stuck on a waiting list to receive Medicaid benefits for critical services such as personal care, job training and transportation. About 500 of them have recently graduated from high school. Normally a time of new beginnings — college, job, independence — graduation is the onset of uncertainty for families with special needs kids, and a reminder to the rest of us of the importance of a stronger safety net that lets far fewer people slip through the cracks.

The Tampa Bay Times' Donna Winchester recently profiled Kelly Krohel, a severely autistic woman who graduated last month from Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center. At 22, she cannot drive or care for herself and has limited speech. But she has a flair for art and is headed for a day program at PARC in St. Petersburg, which serves adults with developmental disabilities. She can also continue receiving therapies that will help her be as independent as possible — all thanks to her Medicaid waiver.

Kelly, along with her aging caregiver-parents, are an example — a fortunate one — of what happens to developmentally disabled kids and those on the autism spectrum when they leave the school system. Many are enrolled in Medicaid as children and receive services along the way. But they "age out" at 22, and even if they qualify for Medicaid for health care as adults, they need what's called a Home and Community Based Services Waiver to continue receiving occupational, physical and speech therapies, nursing care, respite care, dietary assistance, transportation and more. The waiver also helps pay for resources such as PARC, which offers programs in the arts, horticulture, culinary and — perhaps most important — employment support and training.

What would happen to these individuals and their families without that help? Nationally, 1 in 5 families with a special needs child report one parent having to quit a job to provide full-time caregiving. A quarter of such caregivers are over age 60. Helping people with these unique disabilities to live independently is the only sustainable public policy. It's also in the public interest — institutionalizing the disabled is enormously more expensive — and morally right. Yet Medicaid funding for these programs has never kept pace with demand, and the money is often cut.

The 2017-18 state budget signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott offers modest hope. It provides $3.7 million to take 340 people off the waiver waiting list, but at that rate it would take decades to significantly reduce the waiting list. The money prioritizes critical cases, such as disabled people whose caregiver is critically ill. It won't stretch to recent high school graduates on the waiting list. There's also a nearly $16 million boost in funding for providers, who are being paid at less than 2003 levels. That's making it extremely difficult to recruit and retain workers to provide the services. The money is non-recurring though, which means the hole will need to be filled again next year. Another bright spot is transportation. The budget includes a $5 million increase to a transportation program for disadvantaged people, as well as $3.5 million for a transportation grant and $100,000 for a transportation study and task force for individuals with development disabilities, who consistently list transportation as a top need.

The cost of Kelly Krohel's future care is projected to run $120,000 a year. That would be impossible for most Florida families to cover themselves without the assistance of Medicaid. Developmentally and intellectually disabled adults can lead full, productive lives, but they need help. Enabling them to access engaging programs and job training, helping their parents maintain jobs and keeping them out of institutions is in everyone's — including the public's — best interest.

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Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18