Human services made its annual request to expand subsidies for Utahns with disabilities Thursday. Lawmakers made their annual assurance to spend somewhere between what revenue will allow and their consciences will tolerate.
There are 1,654 mentally and physically disabled Utahns who are qualified and in need but are receiving no services whatsoever.
The state Division of Services for People with Disabilities is asking for $6.6 million $2.2 million from the state General Fund at $4.4 million from federal Medicaid funds to provide services for 450 individuals who aren't getting them and reducing the waiting list to just over 1,200.
The governor has requested the $2.2 million; the fiscal analyst's office is recommending lawmakers fund exactly half of the request, enough to fund about 260 people.
"Not because we think the request too high not worthy of more," said committee analyst Debbie Headden. "Lawmakers ultimately make the judgement. Our recommendation reflects the constraints of having to build state budget that takes into account requests statewide and abiding by the mandate that we propose a balanced budget."
To provide services to every individual on the waiting list would require a total expenditure of $20 million. Services underwritten by the state range from limited family respite support to a full array of 24-hour services both in the community and at the state Developmental Center in American Fork..
Since 1990, the number of people receiving services has grown by 2,685, while the number of those on the waiting has grown by 1,337.
"There's not one member of this body who wouldn't want to fully fund this request every year," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, and member of the Joint Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee. "Sometimes we can do more, sometimes less."
The spending practice over the years has left the disabled, their families and their advocates with the annual feeling that for every step forward lawmakers take two side-steps back.
Human Services Executive Director Lisa-Michelle Church asked committee members if "some kind of soft cap is being placed on the list" because the state has never fully funded the disabled requests for services.
"If we're just going to maintain the pace with the waiting list, I can work with that," she said. "But just let me know if resources are only going to allow us to stay the course."
Utah's disabled list has caused both moral conundrum and legal action over the years but continues without resolution: legislators are aware of the problem but can't see their way to fund the need."This is just one of our eternal compromises between our conscience and what we can pay for," said committee co-chairman Sen. Allen Christensen, D-North Ogden.