Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Michigan governor's proposed budget: not all bad news for people with disabilities

On February 17, 2011, Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder laid out his budget proposal for fiscal year 2012. FY 2012 begins October 1, 2011.

There is some good news in the proposal for people with developmental disabilities. This is from an report on the highlights of the governor's budget:

  • Medicaid eligibility is maintained and provider reimbursement rates are supported without reductions to preserve health care and access for those most vulnerable. 
  • A Medicaid budget that is funded at $11.2 billion, reflecting the institution of a new 1 percent health care insurance assessment on all paid health care and dental insurance claims. 
  • The preservation of over $1.4 billion in funding for programs that assist nearly 55,000 special education students, as well as $1.2 billion for core education programs such as services for academically at-risk students and adult education.

Schools and Universities, however, will be taking a big hit in the proposed plan. K-12 funding will be reduced by 5 % or $500 million. The state will encourage schools to adopt  "best practices" that generate savings on medical benefits for employees and reduce spending on "non-instructional" services. It remains to be seen whether there are additional savings to be squeezed out of already stressed school district budgets.

Another problem is the "elimination of statutory revenue sharing payments for cities, villages and townships in fiscal year 2012 to be replaced with a new incentive-based revenue sharing program available to cities, villages and townships that meet state standards and adopt best practices."  This amounts to a reduction of nearly one-third of revenue sharing funding available to local governments. Local governments will have less to spend on safety, fire protection, and other local services and the mental health system will have more difficulty serving people who are not eligible for Medicaid. They will not be able to shore up the mental health system to provide services that are needed but not necessarily mandated or covered by Medicaid. This exacerbates the problem of declining revenues from property taxes for local governments. A more detailed analysis of the impact on Washtenaw County is covered in an article from

There will also be less money available for poor people with the elimination of Michigan's contribution to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Snyder says that the money saved will go into maintaining Medicaid and other services for the poor, but Stephen Henderson, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press has a good point: while the budget calls for eliminating tax breaks for wealthier people, "poor people will take a bigger hit, relatively speaking than everyone else". This will also effect small businesses, especially in Detroit where the EITC reduction will take $330 million out of the local economy.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, the Governor explains the thinking behind the balancing act that his administration did to justify the changes he is proposing. Last Sunday's Detroit Free Press editorial page, not known for its support of Republican budget initiatives, is surprisingly mild in its criticism of the governor's proposals. Michigan's budget problems have been long in the making and there is a tendency to hope, perhaps beyond reason, that these proposals will help.

The Governor's non-ideological approach to Michigan's problems and his eclectic method of problem-solving are mulled over by Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson in his assessment of the governor as "A mild-mannered radical". Dickerson foresees the possibility of attacks from both ends of the political spectrum, but says that "Snyder's ace in the hole is the voters' widely shared conviction that Michigan's fiscal disease cries out for nothing less than radical surgery."

So far, the governor appears to have avoided a full-frontal Wisconsin-style assault on public employee unions, but one can expect that local adjustments will inevitably lead to losses in wages and benefits for public agency employees, if the governor's budget is adopted.

Friday, February 11, 2011

White House Monthly Disability Call - 02/15/2011

To make sure you get a chance to listen in on this monthly phone call with the White House on disabilitiy issues, try calling in 15 minutes early.

This is from Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President:

In order to help keep you more informed, we are hosting monthly calls to update you on various disability issues as well as to introduce you to persons who work on disability issues in the federal government. This month's topic will be on the President's budget as it relates to people with disabilities.

This call is off the record and not for press purposes.

We strongly urge and ask that you distribute this email broadly to your networks and list serves so that anyone who wants to participate and learn about the President's budget can do so.

Our next call will be Tuesday, February 15 at 1:00 PM Eastern.

The conference call information is below.

Dial in for listeners: United States: (800) 288-8974

Title: White House Disability Call (use instead of code)

Date of Call: 02/15/2011

Start Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

For live captioning, at time of call, log onto:

If you received this email as a forward but would like to be added to the White House Disability Group email distribution list, please email and provide your name, email address, city, state and organization if applicable.

Again, please distribute widely.

Kareem Dale
Special Assistant to the President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20500

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Michigan Home Help Services for people with disabilities

The Home Help Services Program is administered by the Michigan Department of Human Services and is paid for by Medicaid. It allows adults with developmental and other disabilities to receive help so that they can stay in their own homes or their family's home. Home Help funding is also given to people in supported living homes to supplement other services provided by the local Community Mental Health agency.

Home Help Services include preparing meals, clean-up and feeding, toileting, bathing, grooming, dressing, moving around the house, taking medicine, shopping, laundry, and light housework. People enrolled in the Home Help Services program employ their own provider who may be a friend or relative (including a parent if the adult-child is over 18 years old).

The number of hours paid for depend on a functional assessment of Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. The maximum amount of money available under regular home help services is $549/ month. Expanded Home Help Services for people who need more help pays up to $1300/month depending on the need for more services. Funding over $1300/month is possible with approval by the Michigan Department of Community Health.

To learn more about the program and to apply for benefits contact your local Department of Human Services. For Washtenaw County, contact:

Department of Human Services
22 Center St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
Phone: (734) 481-2000

If your funding for services is decreased or denied, you must be given an Advance Negative Action Notice (a notice that tells you why the action was taken and your right to appeal the decision). You have the right to appeal the decision through a Medicaid Hearing. If you ask for the hearing before the date the action is to go into effect, the service and funding must continue until a decision has been made by a Medicaid hearing officer.  Here is a brochure explaining the basics of Medicaid Hearings.

As a guardian of a person in the Home Help Program, you may file for a Medicaid Hearing on behalf of the person, but you must send a copy of the Court Order from the probate court granting guardianship with your hearing request.

More information on Home Help Services is available in the Adult Services Manual. Click on the Independent Living Services Program Overview, Requirements, and Procedures (ASM 361, 362, and 363) for much more information on Home Help Services.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Michigan hearings on changes to special ed. administrative rules

Think Spring
The Michigan Office of Special Education and Early Intervention Services will conduct public hearings to receive public comment on the following proposed administrative rules and documents:

    * Special Education Programs and Services Administrative Rules (2010-049 ED)
    * School Social Worker (2010-048 ED)
    * Notice and Consent Procedures
    * Due Process Complaint Procedures
    * State Complaint Procedures

For more complete information and links to the documents that are under consideration, see the MDE Website.

The hearings closest to Washtenaw County will be in Detroit on Monday, March 7, 2011 from 4:00-8:00 p.m. at Renaissance High School, 6565 West Outer Drive, Detroit, MI 48235. Phone: (313) 416-4600.

Written comments can be submitted no later than 5:00 p.m., March 18, 2011, to:

Public Comment
Office of Special Education and Early Intervention Services
Michigan Department of Education
P.O. Box 30008
Lansing, MI 48909
Fax: 517-373-7504

There are many references in these documents to federal regulations under I.D.E.A. Here is a link to those regulations. You will find more federal I.D.E.A. resources from the U. S. Department of Education here.

Laws, rules, and regulations are generally not the first things parents with children in special education think about when they have a spare moment. We are all be better off, however,  knowing something about them and how they apply to children and parents. It is not enough to have the laws and rules interpreted for us by others who may not have our children's interests at heart or who may have other agendas. Reading them and understanding them is one way to demystify the special education process.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Michigan parents settle lawsuit involving facilitated communication

The parents of an autistic girl settled a lawsuit against the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, police department last month for $1.8 million, according to an article in the Detroit Free Press.

Over three years ago, the father was arrested and accused of raping his 14-year-old autistic daughter based on accusations made through a widely discredited method called facilitated communication (FC). A facilitator, in this case a teacher's aide, guided the girl's hand over a keyboard while the girl supposedly typed out messages accusing her father of raping her repeatedly since she was seven years old. The father spent 80 days in jail and the mother was put on an electronic tether. The girl and her 13-year-old brother who has a milder form of autism were placed in foster care. The police, in a video-taped interview, tried to browbeat the brother into admitting that he too had been molested by his father. He was told that the police had video tapes showing this to be true, a story that turned out to be entirely fabricated.

In a related article, the Free Press reports that the parents' lawsuit against the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, the Walled Lake Consolidated School District and the Michigan Department of Human Services is still under consideration. Although the Oakland County lawyer argues for governmental immunity for his clients, the District Court Judge finds the facts in the case troubling.

The facts are indeed troubling:

  • There was no physical evidence that a rape had taken place.
  • The prosecution and the judge in the case accepted the girl's statements through FC as valid even though she functioned at the level of a two-year-old and did not talk. Even the prosecution's witness called to defend FC as a valid form of communication, did not believe the girl's charges and had warned the prosecution that her statements should be validated independently.
  • The girl's brother was interviewed by the police without notifying his guardian and without a parent or attorney present.
  • The primary objection to FC is that the communication is usually that of the facilitator and not the person who is being facilitated. The court still treated the girl's statements as evidence of a crime, reliable enough to have the father thrown in jail for 80 days.The case was dismissed after the girl was unable to answer even simple questions when her facilitator could not hear the questions being asked. 
  • When the case was dismissed, the prosecution did not admit that they were wrong. Instead they said that the girl refused to testify because she was afraid.

We may never know the motivation for the actions of the prosecutor's office, the police department, and the school district. At least the parents have some compensation for this travesty that almost destroyed their lives.

Here are earlier posts on this case. MSNBC in 2009 had a blogpost called "Dark shadows loom over facilitated talk" which includes the Michigan case. It also gives a general overview of the origins of FC.