Judge blocks DES cutting services, restores DARC fundingBy Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX A judge late Wednesday blocked the state Department of Economic Security from cutting services to any of the state’s estimated 30,000 developmentally disabled.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Heilman said he reached the “inescapable conclusion’’ that the haste with which DES acted in cutting its spending “has served to create nothing less than mass confusion, anxiety and uncertainty’’ among individuals who receive benefits from organizations that are paid to provide services to them.
The judge in particular criticized a 10 percent acrosstheboard cut to the service providers which he said was implemented without public input and without considering how it would affect people who depend on the services. And Heilman said DES acted to reduce services even though lawmakers did not relieve the agency of its legal responsibilities to provide care for those with mental health problems.
The decision, at least temporarily, restores more than $300,000 in funding that Douglas ARC was going to have to cut.
In a prepared response, DES spokeswoman Liz Barker said the agency will abide by the court’s order to restore funding. “However, we intend to appeal the decision and ask the court to stay the injunction,’’ she said.
The order comes as Republican legislative leaders agreed Wednesday to make changes in revised current state budget they enacted just two months ago.
Most notably, lawmakers agreed to a request by Gov. Jan Brewer to use $18.2 million in federal stimulus dollars to continue to provide subsidized child care services to the families of an estimated 15,000 children. That aid, like the funds for programs for the developmentally disabled, was cut by DES.
A vote on the revised budget is set for later today.
In enacting that revised budget, lawmakers cut $580 million in funding to plug a $1.6 billion gap between spending and revenues.
The DES share of that was close to $100 million. But the agency said its total cuts really amounted to more than $150 million, what with cash taken from special accounts and the refusal of lawmakers to provide additional needed funds.
Aside from that 10 percent cut in payments to service providers, DES also eliminated services for people who are moderately developmentally disabled who, with support, can work in the private sector. Also eliminated was funding for early intervention services for 2,000 children, from birth through age 3, who are at risk for becoming developmentally disabled. Overall, the agency said it was cutting services to 5,000 children and adults who themselves or their families earn more than the federal poverty level.
Bev Hermon, who lobbies on behalf of the organizations that are paid by DES to provide services, said she understands some cuts are necessary because of the state’s financial situation. But she said and the judge agreed the cuts to developmentally disabled were made without giving adequate consideration to how those getting services would be affected.
Senate President Bob Burns said late Wednesday he had not seen the ruling.
On the subject of the budget revision, Burns said the decision to restore subsidized child care services should not be seen as permanent.
The program provides subsided care for families earning less than 165 percent of the federal poverty level about $36,382 for a family of four. DES Director Linda Blessing dropped subsidy eligibility to 110 percent of the federal poverty level, or $24,255.
Burns said lawmakers agreed to restore the funding only after Gov. Jan Brewer said she wanted to pay for that with some of Arizona’s share of federal stimulus dollars. But Burns said once that money runs out probably in mid 2010 there is no guarantee that Arizona taxpayers will again shoulder the burden.
Those budget modifications set for vote today also include taking more than $17.6 million from state aid to cities.
The original $9.9 budget adopted for this fiscal year last June included a provision requiring cities and counties to give the state $29.7 million to balance its budget. But the state Supreme Court, in a lawsuit brought by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, ruled last month the maneuver was illegal.
But the justices said the legal problem was not that lawmakers took the money but the way they did it. The revised budget set for vote today follows the procedures the high court indicated would be proper.
Lawmakers decided not to try to get additional funds from the counties.