Sunday, February 25, 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.

Comments
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the stateís safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last weekís massacre ...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Associationís solid w...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasnít enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldnít take months or another tragedy for Florida ó which is hot and full of seniors ó to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. Thatís why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18