- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to provide new services to the developmentally disabled relies on $11 million from the state’s pool of federal recovery money for hurricanes Gustav and Ike and requires federal approval.

The governor’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes dollars to expand home- and community-based care for the disabled around Louisiana, to give assistance to nearly 2,500 people on waiting lists.

When the Jindal administration talked about the plans last week, health officials didn’t explain that the dollars used for the expansion are earmarked for disaster recovery needs and the spending plans need the backing of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the governor’s top budget adviser, said Thursday the administration is confident HUD will agree to the proposal.

She said the dollars will help revitalize services in communities that were hit by the 2008 storms, and she said similar disaster recovery dollars have been used for other health care service expansions that were approved by federal officials.

“It’s completely an allowable need,” she said. “We think we have a strong case.”

Jindal proposes using the $11 million to draw down federal Medicaid money to provide $26 million in expanded disabled services that help keep people out of nursing homes and other institutions.

Advocates for the developmentally disabled and lawmakers who pushed for increased funding initially praised the announcement that the governor was proposing new spending on the programs.

But concerns have been raised about the use of the hurricane recovery dollars to pay for it.

Kay Marcel, chair of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, questioned if HUD would agree to the spending plans and if money would be available to continue the services after the block grant disaster funds were depleted.

“I feel like people have been given false hope again,” Marcel said. “Last week, we felt like it was one less thing that we have to advocate for in the (upcoming legislative) session, because the governor’s on board. It may not be as easy as we thought it would be.”

Nichols said the state has had hurricane recovery dollars for years and expects to have many more years of the block grant money to spend.

The issue of disabled services is politically sensitive. Jindal angered lawmakers six months ago by vetoing dollars earmarked for the programs that he is proposing to expand in the 2014-15 budget.

Lawmakers will consider the governor’s budget recommendations in the legislative session that begins March 10.

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