Late Tuesday, the Ohio General Assembly's conference committee generated the legislature's final version of the two-year spending bill (HB 166) to reconcile differences between the House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the budget. Pending a final floor vote today (July 17), the final version of Am. Sub. HB 166 includes a number of provisions that will impact Ohio's DD system in positive ways. Governor DeWine is expected to sign the budget bill today and issue vetoes of specific budget items. All items listed below are expected to be maintained. The final state budget bill includes the following:
• Direct Support Professional (DSP) Wage Increase
The final budget bill sets aside funds to achieve to a state average DSP wage of $12.82 for the second half of FY2020 and the first half of FY2021 and $13.23 for the second half of FY2021. This increase (which was advocated for by people with developmental disabilities, providers, and county boards alike) will provide a badly needed cost of living adjustment for direct support professionals, and OACB thanks all the advocates who made their voices heard on this issue.
• $24.7 Million for Early Intervention Services
These new funds will expand program eligibility and care coordination to include an estimated 3,000 additional children affected by lead exposure and neonatal abstinence syndrome—two issues that are of growing concern as Ohio continues to grapple with the effects of old infrastructure and the opioid crisis.
• Summary Suspension Process
A new summary suspension procedure will allow county boards to more quickly request the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities to suspend a provider's certification when there are serious, supported concerns regarding the safety of people receiving services from that provider. This new process will reduce administrative response times when it comes to keeping Ohioans with developmental disabilities safe.
• Non-Medical Transportation Updates
The as-introduced budget included $9.8 million to overhaul the structure by which the state pays for non-medical transportation services for people with developmental disabilities. Non-medical transportation (NMT) services allow many people with developmental disabilities who live in the community to get to work and community events, but the state's reimbursement system for NMT providers has meant that these services are often unreliable for the people who need them. The overhaul in the state budget will help make these services more predictable and encourage additional providers to offer them.
• County Board Sustainability Measures
Several items were included in the budget that will help boards remain financially stable in the future. These include new authority to create reserve accounts to ensure long-term funding for services and new requirements that boards make five-year financial forecasts so they and the public are less likely to be surprised by financial ups and downs in the near future.
• DD Levy Roll-Back Protections
In addition to items that will help boards plan for the future, two items in the budget bill will help maintain DD levies approved by voters. These include limits on how county budget commissions can consider boards' long-term savings when deciding whether to roll back voter-approved DD levies. The bill also includes requirements that budget commissions consider boards' five-year forecasts when deciding whether a levy rollback is appropriate and that they hold a public hearing if they intend to roll local DD funding back.
• Compromise on ICF Notification Requirements
Language added in the Senate would have required county boards to talk to people and families about 24/7 residential care facilities (intermediate care facilities, or ICFs) when discussing any service. After lawmakers heard from advocates on both sides of the issue, this language was ultimately replaced with amended language that limits this mandate to discussions about residential services. OACB supports the compromise language recommended by the conference committee because it provides people and families with more information to make an informed choice on residential service options when those service options are being discussed. Read more about this topic.
• Innovative Pilot Projects
The as-introduced budget included language allowing DODD to authorize innovative pilot projects likely to serve the long-term goals of Ohio’s DD system. This provision—removed by the House—was re-added by the Senate and maintained in conference.
After the committee's changes are approved, the bill will head to Governor DeWine for his signature (and line-item vetoes). OACB would like to sincerely thank the members of the Ohio General Assembly for their time and work on the above issues and the advocates and county board professionals who reached out to their state lawmakers on these and related topics.