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ASM's State Legislation Update

Governor's Budget
by Betsy Mahoney

Maine’s system of care is in crisis. More than 30 group homes have closed in the past 18 months. Low wages for direct service providers are largely to blame for the workforce shortages that led to these closures.

However, in the last days of the legislative session, the Appropriations Committee failed to include two budget amendments that would have provided wage and COLA increases for direct service providers. Earlier in the session, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee had unanimously passed these amendments to the Governor’s Supplemental Budget to give DSPs a 4.9% cost of living increase and to increase MaineCare rates to pay DSPs 125% of minimum wage. The Appropriations Committee’s failure to even bring up these amendments to help DPSs was deeply disappointing, especially in light of this year’s record budget surplus.

ASM submitted testimony on the DHHS part of the budget on Feb. 28, making the case that funds included in the budget for direct care workers in Medicaid waiver programs (group homes and community services) were not enough to fulfill the promise legislators made last year to raise MaineCare rates to pay DSPs across the board 125% of minimum wage. While the Health and Services Committee was committed to fixing the problem, neither the Appropriations Committee nor the governor were willing to help.

Legislation to reform early childhood special education services fails to pass After a years-long effort to revamp early childhood special educatio services, the Maine Department of Education proposed legislation, LD 2039, that would have made make significant changes to the services provided for children birth through five. It would have moved some services from the Child Development Services System to Maine School Administrative Districts, among other proposals.

There were a number of problems with LD 2039, however. The bill would have eliminated Maine’s Child Development Services without a plan to help CDS employees stay in the workforce; fast-tracked the move of special education pre chool services for 3- and 4-year-old children to public schools; and created a new entity to serve infants and toddlers (birth through age 3). In addition, the bill did not include a clear funding mechanism and left too many unanswered questions. Finally, it provided no process for input from families, CDS staff, or stakeholders in the future development of these services.

• Representative Rebecca Millet (D-Cape Elizabeth) introduced an amendment to LD 2039 that addressed some of the problems, including creating a task force for stakeholder input.

• The Autism Society joined with the Maine Children’s Alliance, the Maine Developmental Disabilities Council, the Maine Parent Federation, and other advocacy groups to push Rep. Millet’s version of the bill, or failing that, to kill the DOE bill altogether.

• In the end, LD 2039 died because it failed to pass the House, and because the Senate adopted Rep. Millet’s version. The two houses could not agree. It’s back to the drawing board for reforming early childhood special education.

Federal policy

Kim Musheno of the Autism Society of America reported that the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Education and Rights Task Forces supported new policies (also supported by ASA) including:

• Federal funding targeted to state education agencies, local education agencies and/or schools must not support the hiring and/or training of law enforcement, including school resource officers.

• A vote in favor of this position would allow the CCD Education Taskforce to support the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act and other similar bills.

• Federal funding and policy must not support school or district practices that utilize violence risk assessments or threat assessments.

There is a guide, State Policy Strategies for Strengthening the Direct Care Workforce, that provides strategies that states have used to strengthen this essential workforce. They hope states will use these strategiesto reform the direct care workforce to help the workforce crisis now and for the future.

The ASA has an updated Action Center, upgraded to a nicer platform and the team revised the Center to be in line with the new brand.

Federal legislation

Budget reconciliation update. Advocates are concerned that if there is not a bipartisan agreement on a reconciliation bill, we might lose the chance for the HCBS funding.

See also the Washington Post article: