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Tag Archives: Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has released their Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR). The full document can be found here: http://www.dars.state.tx.us/reports/lar2016_2017.pdf . This document represents the agency’s budget request for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 (taken together these are a biennium). This is the first step in the budget process, where the agency identifies what it needs and what special requests that it has. This will be matched in the beginning of the Legislative session in the spring of 2015 with a document by the Legislative Budget Board, which will be their view of what the agency needs. The agency will then spend the spring testifying before the Texas Legislature to secure its appropriations.

This is an extremely important document because there may very well be more significant changes on the horizon for the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program. Reading through the document, DARS tells us that in fiscal year (FY) 2013, ECI served approximately 25,000 children per month. In their LAR, they are projecting to serve a little over 22,800 by FY2017. This represents an almost 9 percent decrease. During this time, the average monthly number of hours of service per child per month is projected to increase from 2.61 hours/month to 2.93.

In their LAR, DARS is projecting that ECI will essentially maintain its budget in FY 2016, but will see a reduction of more than 15% during FY2017. In other words, in their baseline budget request DARS is telling us that they are projecting a decrease in funding and are projecting that they will need to serve fewer Texans between the ages of birth and three years old.

As a result of this, DARS is making two special requests for funding in their LAR on behalf of the ECI program. The first is a request of over $25,000,000 over the biennium just to maintain the projected FY2015 case levels. From page 189 of the LAR: “Federal IDEA Part C funding available to fund the ECI system in Texas has remained flat in recent history. However, ECI program costs associated with federal
requirements and not reimbursed by Medicaid has resulted in the agency using more federal IDEA Part C funding for allowable program expenses than projected. As DARS uses more IDEA Part C funding in fiscal years 2014-2016 to support ECI program costs, the result is less IDEA Part C funding available to maintain base funding levels and serve eligible children in fiscal year 2017. Funding for this exceptional item is to maintain the number of children served in fiscal year 2016 in fiscal year 2017 in the ECI
program.”

What does this mean? It means that Texas has consistently underfunded the ECI program, relying on a finite amount of Federal funding instead. That funding is running out, creating a shortfall. If that shortfall is not covered, Texas will have to provide ECI services to fewer children.

The second special request is an additional $25,000,000 over the biennium to increase monthly caseload to over 30,000 by FY2017. DARS is projecting that even with their more stringent eligibility criteria the number of young Texans who qualify for ECI is going to increase pretty dramatically by FY17.

My take on the bottom line, DARS needs an almost fifty million additional dollars over the biennium to continue to offer services to young Texans who qualify under the current eligibility criteria. If they can’t get that through the Legislature, there will be another difficult round of system changes that involve a combination of more stringent eligibility criteria (so fewer children are being served) combined with more family cost share.