A home of one’s own

Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2015
Renee Washburn is like many other women her age. She enjoys her work. She volunteers every week. Shopping is her favorite pastime. And while she frequently visits her parents at their home in Greenville, she much prefers her own apartment in Temple.

It’s a life that she and her family have fought long and hard for.

Renee, 38, was born with Coffin-Siris syndrome, a rare genetic disease that causes significant developmental disabilities. Now, Renee’s parents, Kathy and Mike Washburn of Greenville, anxiously watch state budget proceedings and hope that, at the end of the day, their daughter will be able to continue her independent life.

This year, the House proposed a budget that increases the Health and Human Services budget by $141 million. The additional monies, however, include the settlement of two lawsuits, one involving the state’s mental health resources — $27.3 million — and another involving an increase in the amount the state reimburses hospitals for uncompensated care.

These costs meant other areas had to give, and the developmental disabilities budget was reduced by $26 million. The agencies that use those funds lose much more, according to Alan Greene, executive director of Monadnock Developmental Services. Greene said the funds would have been matched by federal dollars, meaning that while the state saves $26 million, the agencies lose $52 million in support.

The budget is currently being reviewed by the Senate. After the Senate finalizes its version of the budget, expected by June 30, it will be reviewed by a committee comprised of three members of the House and three members of the Senate, before being presented to Gov. Maggie Hassan. Hassan will then either approve it, veto it, or allow it to be enacted without her signature. If she vetos the budget, it will take 2/3 majority vote of the House and Senate to overrule it.

It’s a familiar song-and-dance for the Washburns. When Renee was 16, they placed her on the wait list to receive state services, despite knowing that she would be in the public school system until she was 21. But even after she graduated, it would be another 11 years before the Washburns had access to state funding that allowed care providers to help Renee throughout the day, provide respite care for her parents, and eventually allow her to move into an apartment with a caregiver who helps guide her days.

Kathy said that her greatest fear during each budget season is the loss of that funding, and, she fears, all the progress her daughter has made.

On Tuesday, Kathy testified at the budget hearings, asking that the Senate restore funding proposed by the governor and cut by the House for developmental disabilities, early intervention services and to fully fund the wait list of people awaiting services from the state. It’s not the first time she’s testified in front of the Legislature, and it likely won’t be the last, she noted — Health and Human Services are often eyed for savings during the budget crafting process.

The impact to the 
Monadnock region

For its size, the Monadnock region houses a significant number of the people with developmental disabilities that are supported by the state — exactly 10 percent, according to Greene, who has attended several budget hearings.

“The House budget has some very significant cuts, that if enacted would have an impact on services to the people that we support, and that’s pretty clear,” said Greene.

By the numbers

If the $26 million in cuts is enacted, families that rely on state support could see four areas of impact. Family support — such as providing respite care for guardians — developmental disability support, in-home support and early intervention.

∎ Those impacted in the area of family support: 810 statewide, 81 in the Monadnock region

∎ Those impacted in the area of developmental disability support: 624 statewide, 62 in the Monadnock region

∎ Those impacted in the area of in-home support: 46 statewide, five in the Monadnock region

∎ Those impacted in the area of early support or intervention: 257 statewide, 26 in the Monadnock region

Some people who receive services may show up in more than one category, said Greene, which means they could be losing several types of services. The cuts will also mean that the 568 people on the state’s wait list for services — 58 in the Monadnock region — will likely have to be put on hold for a year. That group is mostly people who have aged out of the school system, whose parents are aging and no longer able to provide the same level of care, or who have declined in health, said Greene.

“In cold and simple language these cuts would be devastating to people who come to rely on these funds to live a normal life,” said Greene. And the people most likely to be affected are those that already rely heavily on family members to provide support, said Greene, because the state can reasonably assure that the families will pick up the slack. But that’s not a sustainable model, said Greene.

“That’s a short-term game, because the families will break down eventually,” said Greene.

The state of the budget

Further along in the year, and with a better idea of actual revenues than the House was in April, when it completed its version of the budget, the Senate is likely to restore some of the services lost under the House’s version of the budget.

Sen. Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford) was one of several lawmakers at a recent forum held in Peterborough who pledged to vote in favor of restoring funding to the developmentally disabled community. He remains dedicated to that pledge, as well as voting to restore funding to services such as Meals on Wheels and Service Link.

Sanborn said he believes the funds to keep those programs in place already exist within the state’s revenues, but that the budget needs to be reprioritized and the structure of the state’s government needs to be reviewed and inefficiencies eliminated. There also needs to be a closer review of the ongoing budget and the budget process, said Sanborn. He also suggested that the state pull back on the construction and renovation of state liquor stores for a few years to help fund some social programs, as well as looking to reduce the amount of funds that are going to be reimbursed to hospitals that dispense uncompensated care, as the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion have reduced the amount of uninsured people, meaning more people are able to foot their own medical costs.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.