- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal is proposing to expand services for the developmentally disabled in next year’s budget, six months after the governor angered lawmakers by vetoing similar spending plans.

Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert announced Jindal’s proposal Thursday, a day ahead of the unveiling of the governor’s budget recommendations to lawmakers for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Spending on disabled services is proposed to grow to more than $600 million in Jindal’s budget, up from $574 million this year, according to the Department of Health and Hospitals.

Kliebert said the governor’s budget will include $10 million in new state dollars to spend on expanding home- and community-based care for the disabled, services that help keep people out of nursing homes and other institutions. She said that will draw down federal matching money for a total of about $26 million for the services.

The increased funding will get care to nearly 2,500 people who are on waiting lists that contain nearly 50,000 names, including some families that have waited for years to get assistance.

“Securing the funds to assist these individuals, their families and caretakers was one of our top priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. We’ve heard time and time again from advocates, from people living with disabilities, from parents and from caretakers about just how crucial these services are,” Kliebert said.

After lawmakers wrapped up their work on the current $25 billion state operating budget, Jindal stripped $6 million the Legislature added for disabled services. The governor said the state couldn’t afford the add-ons because lawmakers hadn’t provided enough funding to pay for existing health care programs.

Generating the loudest complaints were Jindal’s line-item vetoes that struck out $4 million for a program called the New Opportunity Waiver, or NOW.

Family members of developmentally disabled children plead with lawmakers each year for new NOW funding, with nearly 12,000 people on a waiting list. The dollars vetoed would have paid for 200 new recipients.

Jindal’s budget proposal for next year would add those 200 people to the NOW program, while also increasing spending on other, less expansive health care programs that provide home- and community-based care to the elderly and disabled.

Kay Marcel, of New Iberia, chair of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, said she was pleased “that the untiring voices of people with developmental disabilities and their families who advocated for these sorely-needed services have been heard.”

Marcel’s son Joel has the chromosomal disorder Down syndrome and receives services through the NOW program that help him maintain a job with the local recreation department.

Lawmakers will consider the governor’s budget recommendations in the legislative session that begins March 10. Since lawmakers previously backed similar spending, they are expected to agree now that Jindal is proposing the disabled services expansion himself.

“We were on different pages at the end of the last session. Now it looks like we’re on the same page,” said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.