The LePage administration is proposing to spend $46 million to clear the waiting list – more than 1,000 deep – of adults with intellectual disabilities who qualify but can’t get MaineCare support services.

The budget item went before a joint meeting of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees Friday at the State House.

“Today, more than 1,000 people with significant disabilities are waiting to receive these comprehensive services to allow them to live as independently as possible in the community,” said Mary Mayhew, health and human services commissioner.

“Many of them have been waiting more than seven years for these services, and in numerous cases they are living with aging parents who are struggling to provide ongoing care.”

The $46 million in state money would leverage $79 million in federal funds for services that help adults with intellectual disabilities live in the community instead of institutions.

The program’s services include supported work environments, residential help for caregivers, and other support systems that let adults with intellectual disabilities live semi-independently, while providing relief for family members who care for them.

Mary Lou Dyer, managing director of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers, a group that advocates for providers that assist the disabled, said eliminating the waiting list has long been a priority for the LePage administration, but budget difficulties prevented it.

“We’re thrilled at the consistent support for this issue by the administration,” Dyer said.

Dyer said many support systems are available for parents while their children attend public schools, but once the children graduate from high school or college, opportunities dry up.

“It’s like going off a cliff for these families. Eliminating the wait list in many cases allows the families the ability to keep their jobs and live their lives,” Dyer said.

A lawsuit over the issue was settled in December between the families and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The scope of the budget request goes beyond what’s required in the settlement.

Mayhew said the DHHS budget, at $1.6 billion for 2015-16, is on a more sustainable path, and the state can now focus on its priorities, including eliminating the waiting list.

“We are finally in a position where we are not moving from one fiscal crisis to the next while staring at a sea of red ink,” she said.

But Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, said many of the administration’s priorities don’t match up with people’s needs. While eliminating the waiting list for those with intellectual disabilities is a good idea, he said, so is doing it for the elderly population.

He said many low-income seniors who could live independently with assistance will instead end up in nursing homes.

“There are lots of people on lots of wait lists,” Gattine said. “This is pitting one group of wait lists against another.”

About 1,200 low-income seniors are currently on a waiting list to receive home-based care that would help them stay out of nursing homes, State House Democrats said.

Clearing the waiting list would cost $5 million in state taxpayer dollars.

This week, constituency groups argued against cuts to various programs, including the Fund for a Healthy Maine, which operates an anti-smoking campaign and other health-related programs, and reductions in reimbursements for behavioral health providers.

Dyer said the Legislature and the administration will have to determine how to prioritize during budget negotiations.

“We agree that there are many needs. It’s going to be an interesting spring,” Dyer said.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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