MONTPELIER — The problems began in the spring of 2012, when state officials decided to change how they determine whether disabled children in Vermont are eligible for government-subsidized home care.
The Department of Health discarded its old evaluation tool in favor of one borrowed from Wisconsin, which would from then on be used to determine whether the state was properly allocating “personal care services” to the approximately 2,200 kids served by the program in 2011.
Disability advocates were almost immediately alarmed.
“There was a very significant and very sudden drop-off in the number of children found eligible,” says Gloria Quinn, vice president of developmental services at Rutland County Mental Health.
The Agency of Human Services this week was unable to provide data indicating precisely how many families have been affected by the changes. But advocates and providers familiar with the situation say about half of the children in the program saw their number of home care hours either reduced or eliminated altogether.
“Transitional funding” provided by the state has insulated families from the impacts of the new eligibility standards. But advocates say the looming termination of that temporary stopgap could expose already struggling families to a host of new challenges.
“The question for those families is what do you do now?” says Karen Schwartz, executive director of the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council. “The fact that you can’t leave your child home alone hasn’t changed.”
Melissa Bailey, director of integrated family services at the Agency of Human Services, says the changes brought about by the new evaluation method are designed to help the families impacted by the new standards, not cordon them off from the system.
The new evaluation tool, she says, exposed the allocation of personal-care services for scenarios that didn’t necessarily merit them. The changes, according to Bailey, will push families to enroll their children into programs more befitting their conditions.
“What I can tell you is that the intention of this change is not to save money,” Bailey says. “Any quote-unquote ‘savings’ are invested in children’s services to increase the capacity and access to other necessary services for these kids.”
But advocates say they’ve yet to see funding increases in other programs commensurate with the loss in personal care hours.
– Pete Hirschfeld