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Pennsylvania proposes historic budget to transform care for people with intellectual disabilities and autism

Pennsylvania proposes historic budget to transform care for people with intellectual disabilities and autism

Pennsylvania proposes historic budget to transform care for people with intellectual disabilities and autism

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — A major roundtable discussion was held Wednesday at Keystone Human Services, where Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh met with advocates, families, caregivers and providers. The conversation focused on 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 needy people and their caregivers.

For years, Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities have remained on long waiting lists, unable to access vital services that allow them to actively participate in their communities. This systemic delay has not only limited the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, but has also placed additional pressure on their families and carers. Secretary Arkoosh underscored the unacceptable nature of this reality and expressed the urgent need for tangible change. “This is unacceptable and we must do more to remove barriers to care and services,” she said, highlighting the urgency of addressing these long-standing issues.

At the center of this pivotal moment is Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal, which has bipartisan support. The proposal outlines a $483 million investment in federal and state funds designed to bolster home and community-based service providers. This financial injection aims to increase the average starting salary of service professionals from approximately $15 per hour to approximately $17 per hour. This salary increase is critical to attracting and retaining the qualified staff who are essential to providing these essential services.

Governor Shapiro’s commitment to this cause was evident late last year when he announced that DHS would reevaluate 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 issued in June to assist workforce recruitment and retention efforts.

To add momentum, Governor Shapiro has directed DHS to expand program capacity, allowing 1,650 more Pennsylvanians to receive services this year alone. Additionally, the proposed budget allocates $78 million in federal and state funds to expand services to an additional 1,500 people in the next fiscal year. This action marks the beginning of a multi-year expansion plan that aims to position Pennsylvania as a national leader in ID/A services and eradicate the state’s adult emergency waiting list.

During her visit, Secretary Arkoosh interacted directly with the community at one of Keystone Human Services’ licensed homes. These homes are essential in helping people with intellectual disabilities live more independently and offer a range of services that promote community living, employment, communication, autonomy, choice and control.

The implications of Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal extend far beyond the financial numbers. It represents a profound shift toward recognizing and affirming the dignity of Pennsylvanians with ID/A. By addressing the pay gap for direct support professionals and eliminating wait lists for services, Pennsylvania is poised to fundamentally transform the care and support landscape 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 will also set a new standard for how states support people with disabilities and those who care for them.

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