Pennsylvania Proposes Historic Budget to Transform Care for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism

Roundtable discussionCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

HARRISBURG, PA — On Wednesday, a significant roundtable discussion at Keystone Human Services unfolded as Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh met with advocates, families, caregivers, and providers. The conversation centered around Governor Josh Shapiro’s 2024-25 budget proposal, which promises unprecedented funding for Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities and autism (ID/A), and aims to revolutionize the support system for both individuals in need and their caregivers.

For years, Pennsylvanians with ID/A have languished on lengthy waiting lists, unable to access vital services that enable them to actively participate in their communities. This systemic delay has not only limited the lives of those with ID/A but also placed additional strain on their families and caregivers. Secretary Arkoosh underscored the unacceptable nature of this reality, voicing the urgent need for tangible change. “This is unacceptable, and we must do more to ease barriers to care and services,” she stated, highlighting the urgency of addressing these longstanding issues.

At the heart of this pivotal moment is Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal, which enjoys bipartisan support. The proposal outlines an investment of $483 million in federal and state funding designed to bolster home and community-based service providers. This financial infusion is aimed at increasing the average starting wage for service professionals from roughly $15/hour to an improved $17/hour. Such a wage increase is critical for attracting and retaining qualified staff essential for providing these indispensable services.

Governor Shapiro’s commitment to this cause was evident late last year when he announced that DHS would reassess rates sooner than required, to better support these crucial service providers and the dedicated professionals working within the sector. Additionally, a one-time supplemental payment was released in June to aid workforce recruitment and retention efforts.

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Adding to the momentum, Governor Shapiro has directed DHS to expand program capacity, enabling an additional 1,650 Pennsylvanians to receive services this year alone. Furthermore, the proposed budget earmarks $78 million in federal and state funds to extend services to another 1,500 individuals in the following fiscal year. This move signals the kickoff of a multi-year expansion plan aiming to position Pennsylvania as a national frontrunner in ID/A services and eradicate the state’s adult emergency waiting list.

During her visit, Secretary Arkoosh engaged directly with the community at one of Keystone Human Services’ licensed homes. These homes are essential in supporting individuals with ID/A to live more independently, offering a spectrum of services that foster community living, employment, communication, self-direction, choice, and control.

The implications of Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal extend far beyond financial figures. It represents a profound shift towards recognizing and affirming the dignity of Pennsylvans with ID/A. By addressing the wage gap for direct support professionals and eliminating service waitlists, Pennsylvania stands on the brink of fundamentally transforming the landscape of care and support for some of its most vulnerable residents. If successful, this initiative will not only improve the lives of thousands of Pennsylvanians with ID/A but also set a new standard for how states support individuals with disabilities and those who care for them.

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