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DHH Secretary: Disability Services Still A Priority, Despite Funding Veto

Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals

At the close of the recent legislative session, Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed additional funding to pay for services for the developmentally disabled.

Two weeks ago, an effort to override the veto failed.

The $3.9 million would have covered a partial year of comprehensive at-home disability services for an additional 200 people through what are called "New Opportunity Waivers".


State Dept. of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said the veto has no effect on people currently getting NOW Waiver services.

"But it does mean that we don't have any additional money going into that New Opportunity Waiver fund," said Kliebert.

She said with the department facing a cut of $20 million in state general funds for next year's budget, it didn't make sense for her to add additional services at the same time services were being reduced elsewhere.

Kliebert said of the 10,000 people on that waiting list for NOW Waivers, many are already receiving some services. 

"Over 9,000 are already Medicaid eligible," said Kliebert. "There are also 4,000 people on the list that are getting other waiver services or state general fund services."

There are alternatives for families who aren't getting the disability services they need. Kliebert said the local Human Services Districts are a places families can go if they're in a crisis situation. 

A-La-Carte Services

Kliebert said DHH is looking into switching to a "needs-based" model for waivers. That means assessing people beforethey actually come up on the list for a comprehensive NOW waiver, as some people may just need a small amount of services right now.

She said the department also needs to combine the four waivers the state offers - Children's Choice waivers, New Opportunity waivers, institution-to-home transition waiver, and employment support waiver - so when a person comes up on the list, they aren't just getting a NOW Waiver.

"It should be when you come up on the list, you have a menu of services that can meet your needs flexibly," said Kliebert. "So if we combine those and just come up with a menu of services it gives us and the families the flexibility to only take what they need now."

Kliebert said the next steps are to really make sure stakeholders are involved and stay engaged in the transformation of the system to make it happen.

Limited Resources

Kliebert went on to say that, with the current system, even if DHH does a better job at allocating resources, people are still going to be in need of services. She said if Louisiana wants to serve every single individual with needs, her department is going to need additional resources.

But Kliebert said additional funding for disability services is a priority area for the department and the Jindal administration.

Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.

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