Funding for DARS Misses the Mark
Signaling that we are getting closer to the end of the 2015 legislative budget process, both the full Senate and the House have voted out their respective proposals for the 2016-17 biennium. This analysis looks at how the Senate and House plans differ in support for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services, autism, rehabilitation, disability determination, and other services administered by the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).
From the very beginning, the Senate and House DARS budget proposals were very different, mostly because the Senate proposed transferring Vocational Rehabilitation Services (general and visually impaired /blind services), Disability Determination Services, and Business Enterprises of Texas to the Texas Workforce Commission. This meant that the Senate proposed $432.1 million in All Funds for DARS, with $90.8 million coming from general revenue, while the House initially proposed $1.3 billion All Funds, or $209 million in general revenue. (For programs unaffected by the transfers, the House and Senate starting-point budget levels were the same.)
CSHB1, the proposal approved by the full Senate on April 14 based on Finance Committee changes, increases total DARS funding to $455 million, with $119.5 million coming from general revenue. The major increase in general revenue is due to the Senate no longer phasing out the autism program or moving it to the Texas Education Agency.
The House budget proposal finalized two weeks ago would still give DARS more overall funding than the Senate proposal, because of the Senate’s proposed transfers to TWC, contingent on passage of legislation. House committee changes added $26 million in general revenue to DARS, or $23 million in All Funds, compared to the House starting-point budget.
Highlights from HB1 and SCSHB1:
- Both proposals fund ECI services at a level higher than the chambers’ initial proposals, but only to increase the service delivery hours to 2.75 per child per month (from 2.69).
- In the Senate proposal, services for children with autism would only fund comprehensive applied behavioral analysis (ABA) treatment services for children enrolled as of August 31, 2015. Focused ABA treatment services would be provided for children who enroll on or after September 1, 2015; 945 children served per year is projected. The House proposal leaves the autism comprehensive and focused ABA treatment services intact, with the latter serving 623 in 2016 and 711 in 2017.
- Despite the House proposing $1.4 million more in funding than the Senate for the Independent Living Services for the Blind, the proposals present a trade-off. The House proposes serving more people at a lower cost, whereas the Senate proposes serving fewer people at a higher cost.
- Both proposals fund comprehensive rehabilitation services at about the same amount, with the Senate providing slightly more funding. As a result, the Senate proposal would serve eight more people a year, but at the same cost as the House proposal.