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Funding shortfall in disability services isn't a priority in DHSS' budget

Joe Irizarry
Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers are questioning why the Department of Health and Social Services is failing to meet its requirement to fully fund intellectual disability services.


Members of the Joint Finance Committee Thursday were frustrated by the lack of funds to meet their promise to fully fund intellectual disability service providers in the state.


The McNesby Act, passed in 2018, promises to fund and increase the rates paid to service providers, to reduce staffing shortages.


But, according to DHSS secretary Molly Magarik, the department is sitting at only 68% percent of its funding, and DHSS isn’t asking for additional funding to cover the shortfall.


State Sen. Laura Sturgeon (D-Brandywine West) says the Joint Finance Committee should take a hard look at putting money toward keeping its promise.


“We all said that this was a priority for us,” Sturgeon said. “We need to do better by these individuals, these families have been more than patient — and especially now, they need to know these services are going to be available for them so their loved ones will survive the pandemic.”


Elizabeth Drobit-Blair is the Chief administrative Officer at QMA, a disability service provider in the state.


She says staff who work in this field are overworked and underpaid, which has led to a staffing crisis.


“We found our staff simply cannot handle the lifestyle I'm describing,” said Drobit-Blair. “We’ve seen a ten percent rise in our already rapid turnover rates, and we’re losing our dedicated staff to Target and Amazon, we’re not losing them to competitors in our field.”


Drobit-Blair says at the current level, DHSS only supports a wage of $9.62 an hour, slightly above the state’s minimum.


State lawmakers also heard from many other disability advocates, who all repeated the same message; fully fund intellectual disability services.


Margarik says, in order to bring those services to the recommended levels, her department would need another $40-50 million.


To put that into perspective, DHSS is asking for a little under $30 million in new funding across all its departments.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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