On January 27, Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) introduced SB 2, the Senate’s starting-point 2016-17 Texas budget. Two weeks earlier, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Joe Straus (R – San Antonio) introduced HB 1, the House’s recommendations for funding state services in 2016-17. Public hearings are now underway on both proposals. This week, I testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article II on their respective starting-point budget proposals for DARS.
In HB 1, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) overall budget would increase by 2.3 percent, or $28 million for the biennium. However, the General Revenue portion of the budget would decrease by 4.6 percent, or $10 million for the biennium.
At first glance, SB 2 would appear to be a much worse proposal for DARS, with an almost 65 percent All Funds decrease, or 59 percent less in General Revenue funding. But this is because SB 2 would transfer Vocational Rehabilitation (General Services and Visually Impaired or Blind), Business Enterprises of Texas, and Disability Determination Services to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). SB 2 also proposes to phase out the DARS Autism program by fiscal year 2017, by which time the Texas Education Agency (TEA) would handle all programs for children with autism.
For programs unaffected by the transfers in SB 2, overall funding levels are the same in both the House and Senate starting points, and both proposals leave many needs unmet.
HB 1/SB 2 Highlights:
- HB 1 proposes no significant change in total funding for the General Vocation Rehabilitation programs, which would receive $455 million for the biennium. Under this proposal, if the average cost per client stays at just under $2,703, the program will continue to serve 84,388 Texans. But if costs per client increase, as has happened in the past, proposed funding will not be enough to serve as many Texans as anticipated.
- Vocational Rehabilitation programs for the blind and visually impaired would see a 1.5 percent cut in HB 1, compared to 2014-15. This results in only 10,304 consumers served in 2017, well below the 10,574 in 2014, meaning that fewer Texans will receive critical services such as job training.
- SB 2 proposes to combine the General Vocation Rehabilitation programs and Vocational Rehabilitation programs for the blind and visually impaired, and transfer them to TWC. Programs would receive a 2 percent increase in funding, but are expected to serve the same number of people as in HB 1.
- DARS had requested $338 million in overall two-year funding for Early Childhood Intervention Services (ECI). SB 2 and HB 1 recommend $303.6 million. This amount allows for more children to be served by ECI programs, barring no significant increase in per-child cost to provide services and a reduction in monthly cost per child to the 2014 level.
- Overall funding stays the same for Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services in both proposals. This means that an exceptional item request of $2.7 million to help reduce the number of Texans on waiting lists went unfunded. Flat funding also means that the average monthly number of Texans receiving the services would drop from 526 in 2015 to 494 in 2016-17, even with only a slight increase in the average monthly cost per consumer ($4,228 to $4,232).
In HB 1, the DARS autism program would only receive a 1 percent increase in overall funding. However, the department had an Exception Item request for $7.8 million to expand comprehensive services and make other improvements. In SB 2, funding for DARS autism services would only cover children enrolled on or before August 31, 2015, with new enrollees being served by the Texas Education Agency. TEA will administer all state programs that support children with autism by 2017.
* Reflects strategies as listed in HB1
† Reflects the consolidation of all Vocational Rehabilitation Programs
‡ Funding as appropriated with the program administered at TWC
§ Funding as appropriated with the program administered by TWC
** Funding included in Strategy 2.1.3
†† Funding as appropriated with the program administered by TWC
‡‡ Some program support funding was transferred to TWC