- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Another Mississippi government agency says that state budget cuts beginning July 1 are likely to cause service reductions.

Chris Howard, director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, said his agency will cut vocational rehabilitation and aid to disabled homeowners because its state money is being cut by $3.4 million, or 12 percent.

He also the department will lose about $11 million in federal money because of reductions in state funding and because it will no longer receive federal reimbursement for rent, legal services, computer services or other items provided by other state agencies. Lawmakers banned state agencies from charging each other for services as part of an effort to assert more control over state spending.

Overall, the budget was rejiggered so that general state spending rose to $6.35 billion, but that was after $187 million that had been in special accounts was swept into general budgets. Without the changes, which didn’t increase revenue but just shifted it around, overall spending will fall about $90 million, or 1.4 percent.

Vocational rehabilitation helps find jobs for people who are blind or disabled. Howard said the program served about 10,000 Mississippians last year. He said he doesn’t know how many fewer people will be served in part because the program is jointly administered with the state Department of Human Services and Mississippi’s 15 community colleges.

“It’s a very important program, but unfortunately we’re going to have to reduce the number we’re serving,” Howard said.

The department also anticipates reducing services in a program that retrofits homes to allow disabled people to remain there instead of moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home. Howard said no new clients may be accepted for four or five months to save money.

He said the department doesn’t anticipate laying anyone off, but that it won’t be able to replace some employees who leave or retire.

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, said he was saddened to hear the department would cut services. He had argued against budget cuts to Rehabilitation Services during the legislative session.

Friday, Dearing said the department had proved its worth to him when they had helped make the home of a friend in Amite County accessible.

“He was always very grateful,” Dearing said.

Mississippi’s Mental Health and Health departments have also said they will cut services because of budget cuts. Mental Health said it will close 67 drug and alcohol rehabilitation beds, close 29 beds at the State Hospital at Whitfield for patients with both a major mental disorder and a complex medical condition, close five mental illness beds at South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis and stop instruction for children 3 and younger at Ellisville State School.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, have said Mental Health would have more $1.1 million more in state money after $5.1 million worth of interagency transfers were stopped. Mental Health spokesman Adam Moore, though, said department officials expect they will only save about half the $5.1 million, resulting in a state funding cut.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy .


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