While many people with disabilities languish on waiting lists for years, or face cuts to the programs that they desperately need, an investigation has found that the money to provide those services has been in the state budget all along.
Nearly $800 million in state and federal matching funds that could have been used to provide 23,000 people with disabilities with the medical treatment, therapy, housing, and the help they need has gone unused in the past two years, according to a report published by The Orlando Sentinel.
Instead, those 23,000 people have remained stuck on a waiting list maintained by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), missing out on sorely-needed care. Additionally, the 34,000 people who receive those services each year are threatened with cuts to the programs that help them live fuller lives or maintain enough independence to stay out of institutions.
An investigation by the ARC of Florida, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for services for people with disabilities—which include autism and cerebral palsy—found that $287 million in budgeted money for disability services went unspent over the past two years. These funds could have drawn an additional $496 million in federal matching dollars. Another $145 million provided by the Legislature for services for the disabled also went unspent and was returned to state coffers.
Once put into a reserve account, the funds can no longer be used for ongoing benefits, APD communications director Melanie Mowry Etters told the Sentinel.
“This is criminal. If they used all the money available to them, the waiting list would be gone,” Ven Sequenzia, who served as president of the Autism Society of Florida for 18 years, told the Central Florida newspaper.
“It is a lot of money that could do a lot of good for families,” said Jim DeBeaugrine, a former head of the ARC of Florida. “It should be just as high a priority as anything else.”
Advocates blame the situation on the Republican-led state’s failure to make these much-needed services a priority. This glaring failure to provide adequate support to disabled people, however, is not new. In 1999, US District Judge Wilkie Ferguson found the state in contempt and fined it up to $10,000 a day for deliberately withholding services from the disabled.