Lawmakers Could Throw Out Beleaguered Tier System
A tiered system that places caps on some aide to families of the developmentally disabled has been so contentious and difficult that the program may end up being scrapped.
Nearly since the inception of the new capped system just last year, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities has been holding workshops and discussions with disabilities advocates about moving away from the new program, which places people in one of four categories that spell out how much help the person can get instead of simply paying for services as was done in the past.
Now, advocates and agency officials are hoping to get legislators to consider instead a program that creates an individualized budget plan for families of the disabled who receive state aid.
“Everybody likes the concept,” said APD spokeswoman Melanie Mowry Etters. “Everybody is working together to come up with this.”
Currently, people with disabilities who are eligible to receive state aid are placed into one of four categories of aid – unlimited, a $55,000 cap, a $35,000 cap and a $14,792 cap. The money can be used for medical and dental care, home care workers or adult day care programs, among other things.
But the tier program came under fire from its inception. Advocates denounced the system as causing more harm than good. Some families lost a significant amount of aid that had been used to care for the relative with the disability and the agency was sued over the service cuts.
One family sued the state over the entire law, a case that was thrown out. Another case, filed by the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities, challenged the way the agency was interpreting the law and thus implementing the tier system. A three judge panel for the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with the advocacy center, saying the agency didn't properly follow the law.
Etters said a new program that the agency envisions would evaluate an individual's situation based on several factors including age, living situation and need. APD officials hope to have a report for lawmakers by Feb. 1 that would help them determine whether they want to eliminate the tier system in favor of the individualized budgets.
The agency implemented a temporary rule in November in response to the appeals court's ruling invalidating its rule. Etters said the agency will be re-evaluating all people who were placed into the tiers that had a cap lower than their previous cost plans and those who were denied hearings challenging their tier assignments.
According to APD, there are currently 29,841 people in the tier system, plus an additional 4,647 people who have not yet been placed in the system because their appeals have not yet been resolved. There are also 19,000 people on a waiting list for care.
Deborah Linton, executive director of disabilities advocacy group ARC Florida, said the group has been working with the agency on possibilities for an individualized budget system. The advocates hate the tier system, mostly because it lacks flexibility, she said.
“The individuals we work with, they do have many unique needs and characteristics,” Linton said. “So there needs to be some flexibility. They can't just be in strict categories.”