Legislators try to shrink waiting list for Floridians with disabilities

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TALLAHASSEE – Backing a proposal by Gov. Rick Scott, House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to spend $36.3 million next year to provide services to hundreds of people with developmental disabilities who have been stuck on a waiting list.

The waiting list has grown to about 22,000 people over the years, as the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities ran deficits in its main program for providing services. But APD officials say they expect to avoid a deficit this year, and Scott included money in his proposal 2013-14 budget to start chipping away at the waiting list.

During budget talks last weekend, the House agreed to a Senate proposal to spend the $36.3 million.

“It’s extremely good news,’’ said Melanie Mowry Etters, a spokeswoman for the agency.

‘Waiver’ program
The money would go to what is known as a “waiver” program that provides an array of home and community-based services to people with disabilities. About 30,000 people receive services through the waiver, but the waiting list has long been a closely watched issue for the agency and lawmakers.

Scott’s office has indicated that the $36.3 million would allow the state to provide services to an additional 750 people, but Etters said the agency hopes to stretch the money to serve about 1,000.

Intensive needs
The state has a system of prioritizing people based on their needs, and Etters said those coming off the waiting list would have what the agency considers intensive needs. She said about 2,000 people on the waiting list have intensive needs.

The additional slots in the program would become available with the July 1 start of the fiscal year. That also will be when the agency expects to finish a statewide phase-in of a new system, dubbed “iBudgets,” that it says will give people more flexibility in deciding how to spend the waiver money on services.

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