Gov. Jindal fires back on budget veto criticism

Gov. Bobby Jindal fought back Tuesday amid pushback from the disabled community on his state budget vetoes.

Jindal lit up social media and ignited a veto override drive by stripping millions of dollars that families asked legislators to put into the $25 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts next week.

Families coping with developmental disabilities wanted a reduction in a routinely years-long waiting list for home-based services and a reversal of changes to a children’s health care program.

The governor purged money for both the waiting list reduction and the children’s program, among other vetoes affecting people with disabilities.

In his first public comments since removing the dollars, Jindal blamed the decision on directives in the $25 billion state spending plan that legislators sent to his desk. He said the budget required him to cut $40 million, making it difficult to expand services for people with developmental disabilities.

“Caring for people with developmental disabilities is important, and it is a responsibility we take seriously,” Jindal wrote in a letter to newspaper editors. “We have worked hard over the last five and a half years to make things better for those who need care by implementing measures to help individuals who are ready to transition from institutional settings to more independent lives in their communities.”

The governor’s explanation is not enough for Jason Durham, of Clinton. Durham’s 20-year-old daughter, Bailey, copes with severe neurological disorders. Her developmental level is similar to that of an infant.

Twice, the children’s health care program that the governor wants to shift to private providers saved Bailey’s life through a coordinated structure of care, Durham said.

“He doesn’t have skin in the game in this,” Durham said. “He doesn’t go home and clean out trachs (breathing tubes). He doesn’t go home and set up a feeding tube.”

Within days of the governor’s vetoes, hundreds of people directed their Facebook friends to a website,, set up to rally support for a reconsideration of Jindal’s decisions.

A veto override session — in which legislators would return to the State Capitol and consider overturning the governor’s decisions — probably is a longshot. Legislators have not returned to Baton Rouge for a veto override meeting after a regular session has adjourned in modern Louisiana history.

With end of the regular session earlier this month, the 144 legislators will receive forms in the mail. The forms allow them to decide whether a veto override session is necessary.

A majority of the members of either chamber must return the forms to prevent a veto override session from automatically convening. If a veto session convenes, two-thirds of the legislators in both houses would have to vote to override Jindal actions.

The governor cut:

Roughly $4 million that would have been used to whittle down years-long waits for families to receive home-based services for developmentally disabled relatives. The services are referred to as the New Opportunity Waiver slots. They keep people in their homes and out of nursing homes and other facilities.

$950,000 for individual and family support programs that use state dollars to provide home-based care or medical equipment to people in crisis who have developmental delays. In many cases, the dollars serve as a bridge until the person can get a NOW waiver.

$793,935 to prevent closure of clinics in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Hammond. The clinics are not brick and mortar but a system that pairs disabled children with medical teams. With the cut, children will see doctors in their private practices instead of at parish health units and may have to change doctors in some cases.

Jindal wrote in his letter that he committed more funding for the home-based waiver program “than at any time in our state’s history.”

“Overall since 2008, we have added more than 2,800 waiver slots for people with developmental disabilities. We have also made a substantial commitment to increasing funding for helping people with developmental disabilities,” Jindal wrote.

The governor emphasized that no one receiving NOW services will be impacted by his vetoes.

Sandee Winchell, executive director of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, said the waiting list numbers 10,000 people. Some have been waiting eight years to receive NOW slots, she said.

Winchell said families can get assistance through a purely state-funded program that also saw dollars removed by the governor’s veto pen. She said that program typically only helps the most profound cases and has suffered 48 percent in budget cuts over the past five years under the Jindal administration.

State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said the administration is not turning a deaf ear to families’ struggles.

“We do agree we need to do more in terms of management of that wait list ... We’ve done an awful lot to rebalance our system,” Kliebert said. “We’re continuing to work on that.”