VCDR’s 2016 Legislative Platform
Budget and Policy Priorities
The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights presents our legislative platform for 2016. It was developed from the stories and concerns of Vermonters and highlights the range of policy and budget issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their families. As this session begins, we celebrate the leadership and commitment of past and present members of the Vermont State Legislature who have helped Vermont develop and preserve policies and programs that make independence and inclusion a way of life for Vermonters with disabilities and their families. We look forward to working with our current Representatives and Senators to preserve the rights and services that make this possible.
Though much is uncertain, it is an important time to remember, honor and preserve the state’s legacy of support for both disability rights and community services. The member organizations of VCDR welcome the opportunity to work with the Administration and the Legislature to ensure basic rights and equal access to responsive health care, inclusive education and essential human services, including peer support services and other disability resources.
Vermont prides itself in being ahead of the nation in many areas of disability policy. Sadly, many of the state’s past achievements and wise investments are jeopardized by recent budget and service reductions. We look to our elected officials to show their support for Vermont’s successful disability services and for policies that offer individuals with disabilities and their families equal rights and opportunities, now and in the decades to come.
Disability is a natural part of the human experience that affects the lives of 20% of Vermonters. This reality must inform our choices in health care reform, educational policy, and community services. As the state addresses difficult and important funding and policy decisions in human services, education, and health care reform, let us also find ways to affirm and deepen Vermont’s commitment to preserving self-determination, equal rights, and community inclusion.
Safeguarding Civil Rights and Protections: VCDR will monitor and oppose legislative proposals that may diminish the civil rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues. Vermont has created the country’s least institutional system of care but issues of access, accommodations, and involuntary treatment are still important in an era of budget constraints and misplaced fear of people who seem “other”.
Alternative for “Evaluation” of people in crisis: Other jurisdictions have created an alternative model for assisting individuals held against their will for psychiatric evaluation. VCDR believes that setting up a facility, largely staffed with peers, whose primary function would be to de-escalate and attend to an individual’s human needs would reduce the pressure on Vermont hospitals and reinforce the community basis of our mental health system. A change to allow this in our statutes could make a pilot program a possibility.
People with Disabilities in Prison: VCDR advocates for change in the way people with serious disability and mental health issues are treated in Vermont’s prisons.
- People ordered by courts to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation should in-fact be admitted to psychiatric units where they can receive appropriate care, not to prison.
- Segregation is not treatment. Vermont should reduce or eliminate the holding of people with mental health issues or serious functional impairments in settings so restrictive that they exacerbate individuals’ mental health conditions.
- Individuals who have served their minimum sentences without incident are generally released from our prisons. Prisoners with disabilities should be supported to attain safe, supported, community placements so that timely release is an equal option.
Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights: VCDR recognizes that children who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, DeafBlind or Deaf with Special Needs should have the same rights and potential as all children to receive a meaningful education and to become independent and self-actualized citizens. We feel that the Legislature should adopt a detailed acknowledgement of those rights in order to guide state policy going forward.
Equal Access to Special Education Services for Young Children: VCDR urges the Agency of Education, in collaboration with its partners, to develop clear guidance about who is responsible for the delivery of special education services when children attend early care and education programs outside the LEA (Local Education Agency) district boundaries.
Monitor AoE Rule 4500: VCDR believes that Lawmakers should know whether Rule 4500 has reduced the use of restraint and seclusion in Vermont schools. Five years ago legislators were instrumental in encouraging its adoption - and all stakeholders agreed that ongoing monitoring of data being reported by schools would be needed. It is time that the legislature ascertain the extent to which Vermont schools have abandoned improper means of discipline in favor of positive means of assuring safe school environments, especially for children with disabilities.
Define “Educational Performance” for Special Education Eligibility: Educational performance is not defined in the Vermont special education rules or Vermont statute. Vermont has established education standards consisting of academic and non- academic or functional skills for all students, including those with disabilities.
VCDR proposes a definition that will codify Vermont’s longstanding public policy reflected in those standards. This will align Vermont law with the federal special education law (IDEA) and provide guidance to the Vermont Agency of Education should they revise Vermont’s special education rules, ensuring that all students with disabilities receive the supports and services they require to succeed in school.
VCDR proposes that educational performance be “…for students of legal school age, performance in those academic and functional areas within the general curriculum and the broad expectations of what students should know and be able to do in the domains of communication, reasoning and problem solving, personal development and civic/social responsibility”.
Legal Assistance for Families with Education Needs: VCDR recognizes the scarcity and expense of legal assistance to families of children with disabilities who are eligible for or on a Section 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school. Funding should be provided for a qualified, full-time, special education attorney or towards sustaining a bank of pro bono attorneys trained by the Disability Law Project in special education law.
Medicaid & Budget
Family Funding & CSHN Respite: VCDR requests increased funding of respite opportunities for families provided via Developmental Services Flexible Family Funding, the Department of Health/Children with Special Health Needs Respite Program, the Children’s Mental Health Respite Program, the Children’s Personal Care Services Programs, and/or any other programs in order to restore past funding levels, and to bring the programs to parity.
Funding for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Newsline in Vermont: The NFB Newsline is an invaluable, efficient, state-specific medium utilized by people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-challenged. Until its state funding was cut, it provided a timely compilation of news, sports and information, including a channel for state-specific information. VCDR believes that funding should be provided to this important independent living tool.
Health Care Reform that Includes the Needs of People with Disabilities: Vermont’s health care reform efforts, annual budget, advisory committees and stakeholder activities must address the acute and long-term needs of people with disabilities, chronic health conditions, and/or long term service and support needs. Specifically, “Safety Net” services (including Medicaid) must not be eroded by state efforts to finance general health care reform. Planning should be proactive and involve stakeholders; as a start the mandate of the Medicaid and Exchange Advisory Board should be amended to clarify that the board is advisory to the Secretary of the Agency of Human Services and all AHS departments and other policy makers, not just to the Commissioner of DVHA.
The Agency of Human Services should develop its internal capacity to analyze and address “population based approaches” to health care reform with long-term care needs in mind. The important role of the Disability Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid should be acknowledged with increased funding.
Medicaid’s mandated EPSDT benefits should be reviewed and funded: Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment benefits (including primary care, therapies, case management, medical supplies and equipment, and transportation) for Vermont’s Medicaid eligible children are crucial to ensure that each individual child gets the medically necessary services to which he or she is entitled. VCDR believes that service gaps, inadequate reimbursement rates, onerous documentation requirements, inadequate advocacy tools, and an overly complex delivery system stand in the way of children achieving their best health outcomes.
Responsibly Address Medicaid!: People with disabilities are disproportionately low- income and often have serious long-term care needs. VCDR believes that a strong Medicaid system is crucial but seems constantly in deficit. The system will not be made sustainable by cutting benefits or decreasing funding for other needed state programs. Adequate numbers of qualified providers must be fairly paid, particularly in long-term care where there is little ability to cost-shift to make a service viable.
SERVICES & NEW INITIATIVES
Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund: The trust fund successfully piloted with one-time funds should be funded on a continuing basis by a surcharge on vehicle registration or other DMV penalties, to provide a source of revenue dedicated to filling the gaps in services and support for people with brain injuries and to develop programs designed to reduce the incidence of brain injury in Vermont.
Rehabilitation Services for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired: VCDR believes that there is a need to increase funding through DAIL for rehabilitation services for the blind and visually impaired, which has been frozen at $320,000 for seven years. The need is great for more teachers, more technology training for the visually impaired, and to reduce the level of subsidization by VABVI. As caseload and needs have increased, an additional $200,000 would go some way towards addressing the need.
Home Modifications Income Tax Credit for People with physical disabilities: For Vermont Seniors and individuals of any age with a disability, everyday living environments can interfere with mobility, safety and productivity. These citizens want to age in place and only a small number receive help from current home modification programs. H.238, introduced last year, creates a modest tax credit that could make a difference between community and institutional living for many.
Integrating Family Services (IFS): Implementation of the IFS initiative should be monitored to ensure that Vermont’s actual budget and policy actions are measured against the goals of the IFS initiative to ensure those actions are consistent with desired outcomes so that IFS realizes its potential for family directed services that effectively and responsively meet children and families’ needs. This laudable initiative is running in parallel with program and budget actions that appear to be undermining the “safety net” of services and family supports.
Peer Navigation for Families with Complex Needs: Vermont should reinstate this program in which people with the lived experience of complex needs in their OWN families assisted other families to find their way through the complex system of social, economic and health programs. Formerly federally funded for 6 years (Family Support 360 Project), peer navigation has a documented record of success in supporting more informed choices and positive outcomes for families with children and/or parents with disabilities.
“Stop the Clock”: VCDR advocates Vermont replicating the “Stop the Clock” process used in Washington State. This requires the formation of teams, including appropriate developmental and other service providers, when a parent with a child in DCF custody has been identified with a disability in order to provide for additional time, assessment and support for reunification and permanence.
Support for Developmental Services: A realistic level of long term supports and services (LTSS) must be available to those with serious needs. This includes developmental services; especially those oriented towards transition to adulthood and sustained meaningful employment. Most people don’t realize that only about 20% of the people who have developmental disabilities get LTSS.
Each year about 100 new people come into the system because of some crisis in their life, like homelessness, the death of a parent, or abuse. And once they come into the system they likely will need services for the rest of their lives. Experienced, reasonably paid staffing is a must and standards to receive services (the System of Care Plan) should include supported employment!
“Communication Facilitator” for the DeafBlind added to the VTRS: The Vermont Telecommunication Relay Service should be equipped to serve the needs of ALL Vermonters who can benefit from communications accommodations so that they have equal access to all that society has to offer. Adding the services of a “Communications Facilitator” can help make this happen.
Formalize the work of the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, DeafBlind Advisory Council: Legislators and the Administration have moved some important parts of S.66 forward without passage of the bill by working with community partners to create this council. This is just a beginning and VCDR advocates that the House continue the process of passing S.66 to insure that the Council’s activities go forward in a formal way.
Insurance Coverage for Dentures and Hearing Aids: Private insurance and Medicaid should be required to provide some reasonable level of coverage for dentures and hearing aids. Dentures make adequate nutrition possible and are important for the overall health of individuals who have a disability. Appropriate Hearing Aids are needed for better communication, good health, and personal safety. Neither are adequately covered by the Affordable Care Act and other insurance providers, including Medicaid.
Support for Peer Initiatives: The state should continue and expand support for Peer initiatives and organizations “of, by and for” people with disabilities. VCDR supports advocacy within the budget process for adequate funding of organizations and projects like: Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, the Green Mountain Self-Advocates, Another Way Drop-in Center, Alyssum, Soteria VT, Pathways VT, Deaf Peer Services, Vermont Family Network, the Vermont Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, the Wellness Workforce Coalition, and other developing peer-run services. This is particularly important as the state budget “tightens” with the pressure of developing expensive residential and inpatient services.
Establishing the practice of “Dental Therapist”: Vermonters with disabilities, particularly those relying on Medicaid have difficulty accessing important dental care. DRVT urges passage of S.20 which could help address this problem by establishing and regulating a new mid-level class of practitioner which could extend the reach of our state’s limited number of dental practices.
Paid Sick Days: People with disabilities, like many others, may well be dependent on an individual whose employment lacks the family-friendly flexibility that having access to the basic benefit of paid sick-leave offers. And of course many people with disabilities are parents, too! VCDR supports H.187 which would allow employees to accrue a minimum number of paid hours annually so that they can take paid time from work to address issues related to health care or safety for themselves or a family member.
The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights thanks you for your service to ALL Vermonters!
VCDR hopes that we can assist you throughout the session as you consider issues that affect the lives of your constituents with disabilities.
VCDR thanks the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, VCDR members and friends for their contributions and support of our work. For more information about particular bills and other VCDR advocacy activities, or to share your recommendations and concerns, contact us
To Contact VCDR by mail:
11 East State St., Suite 2
Montpelier, VT 05602
VCDR can be contacted by phone via VCIL at: