Nichols: State aid for disabled faces federal review

A federal agency must sign off on the funding the Jindal administration plans to use to pay for expanded community-based services for the developmentally disabled, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said Thursday.

Nichols said the administration’s budget proposal earmarks $11 million of federal hurricane recovery money for the purpose.

The funding came through Louisiana’s federal Community Development Block Grant. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must go along with state plans to use the dollars to match federal funds for a $26 million service expansion, she said.

Nichols said the administration is “very confident” that both the block grant funding can be used for the purpose and “that it will be matchable.”

But community and legislative advocates for the disabled said Thursday the funding source raises many questions.

“It make me nervous,” said Kay Marcel, of New Iberia, chairwoman of the Developmental Disabilities Council. “The question I have is what if it’s not approved, then what? Will those waiver slots not be there or do they have a Plan B? That is a concern.”

Marcel said legislators also don’t like to use one-time funding for recurring expenses. “This is not good news,” she said.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who pushed for additional funding last year, said he has questions about the funding source, including whether it would be recurring.

“I don’t want to get ourselves into some kind of trick bag that we have run into on prior occasions,” said Claitor. “It would appear we are on the same page on priorities, but we have to drill down a good bit further to make sure we are on the same page as far as funding goes.”

“I and others on the Senate side will do everything we can to make sure that the financing is dependable,” said Claitor.

Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed funding to expand home and community-based services for people with disabilities last year. The veto prompted an unsuccessful but very public campaign for a veto override to reinstate the funding.

Jindal’s new budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 provides $26 million in additional funding so that nearly 2,500 more people with disabilities can get home and community-based services. Nearly 50,000 of Louisiana’s developmentally disabled, elderly and those with adult onset disabilities are on waiting lists. Today, there are 16,304 people receiving services through a variety of programs.

The budget proposal includes some $606 million for the programs — 6 percent more than the current spending plan.

Nichols said there is no reason for concern about HUD approval. She said the state has used the block grant funding in the past for health clinics in the New Orleans area and for a La. 4 project. She said HUD has allowed the state to use the grant money to match federal funds in the past. “HUD explains in their guidelines it can be used to match federal funds. It can be used to draw down federal funds,” said Nichols.

“It’s money we generate off CDBG investments. Loans are paid back to the state,” she said. “This is not an uncertain source of match for the state. ...It’s been a recurring source of funding.”

Nichols said the administration considers the expansion of services for those with disabilities a recurring expense and will find the money whether CDBG money is there or not in the future.