Agencies helping the disabled see a crisis in funding cuts

July 9, 2016
Yuma Sun
Rachel Twoguns

Yuma agencies providing services to those with developmental and intellectual disabilities are in a crisis due to state funding cuts which could result in their closure and have already created a staffing crisis, they said.

Agencies such as ACHIEVE Human Services and the Saguaro Foundation, among others, provide services to thousands of Yumans collectively. Many of those receiving services are developmentally disabled, meaning they may have a chronic condition due to mental or physical impairments.

ACHIEVE itself is a community rehabilitation program who serves individuals ranging from those with autism to wounded warriors enrolled with qualifying service departments who are seeking employment training and career opportunities.

The Saguaro Foundation alone serves more than 2,000 Yuma-area residents, and their operations range from 14 group homes for developmentally disabled adults to one children's daycare program for developmentally disabled children, according to their website.

"With the public, what we’re trying to do is just educate people on what’s going on," said Rachelle Hadland, spokesperson with the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities (AAPPD). "It’s not something that folks are really familiar with. The system is complex, making it harder to get people up to speed. I found that many people know somebody with a developmental disability or a physical disability, and once they sort of understand what the situation is, they can sort of relate because of that relationship."

Statewide, over 30,000 people receive services from the Department of Developmental Disabilities. The department itself falls under the Arizona Department of Economic Security and the majority of service providers are private agencies.

For several services, certain vendors receive one third of their funding from the state Legislature and two-thirds from fund-matching from the federal Medicaid program. DES allocates the money as reimbursement for costs of care.

Back in 2008, provider agencies were reimbursed at 100 percent of the actuarially determined costs. As the Great Recession arose, however, the state Legislature decreased reimbursements by 15 percent.

Currently, that funding has only been partly restored. During a hearing in February, DES Director Timothy Jeffries informed the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee that DES can only reimburse providers about 78 percent of their expenses.

The majority of the expenses are caregiver wages, AAPPD said, and many caregivers make only $8-9.25 an hour which resulted in a "massive" staff turnover of 56-75 percent in urban and rural areas respectively and a shortage of direct care professionals.

"Really, what it comes down to is these providers provide services to individuals who are developmentally or physically disabled, and if those providers don’t receive the necessary funding then they will shut down," said Hadland. "What happens then is all the people they serve are forced to leave that safe environment and potentially have to leave their geographic environment to get the services they need."

"In addition to that, there would be a lot of staff members in these provider agencies that would also be without work," Hadland added. "For the local economy, especially for Yuma, where you have ACHIEVE Human Services and the Saguaro Foundation who are two big employers, that would be a big deal."

Not only would many employees be out of work if these agencies were to close, Hadland says the current pay is creating a large issue within the provider community.

"The pay for direct caregivers is a huge problem," Hadland said. "I think all of our providers would want to pay the direct service professionals more than what they are currently being paid. The problem is those cuts that happened in 2008. They caused everyone to cut out middle management and everything possible to make sure that the organization is running as efficiently as possible so that they can continue to keep their doors open."

Carol Carr, President and CEO of ACHEIVE Human services, noted that the impact of the budget cuts has been greatly detrimental, as their employees are barely receiving minimum wage and the organization is currently attempting to make ends meet with feeding each client on just four dollars a day.

"Four dollars a day just isn't sufficient to feed anyone and it shouldn't be expected to be enough to feed a member from our most vulnerable population," Carr said. "Likewise, the staff providing these most critical services that have gone through extensive training and perform the most personal services for individuals with developmental disabilities deserve to be making more than minimum wage, virtually poverty level."

It was noted by the CEO that many of her staff members receive pay that is not sufficient for the requirements of their jobs.

"It (the pay) is not really anything that could support a family," Hadland said. "There are a lot of people who do genuinely like their jobs, and so the hard thing is that we’re losing a lot of those really talented caregivers and those special people who have a lot of compassion for these individuals and their clients because of the wages."

Being a direct caregiver itself can be straining, stressed Hadland.

"The job is hard," Hadland said. "I always liken it to if I am going to work with someone who has potential behavioral issues and if I am going to be potentially attacked on a daily basis or just in general have to deal with some stressful situations, I am probably going to want to be paid more than minimum wage. If I am going to be paid minimum wage, why not work, for example, at a fast food place?"

"It’s just hard to justify the stress that comes with the job at the price point and it takes a really special person to hang on, and we do have those folks who are still hanging on and hoping that things will change," Hadland added. "If we were to get a funding increase from the state, then those wages would be one of the items that would be able to be increased."

Overall, Hadland said the AAPPD hopes they can achieve a brighter future if they are able to secure an increase in funding.

"Ultimately, what our organization is focused on is making sure that we are going after that funding so none of the individuals with disabilities are displaced and that they can always receive services they need from the provider that they have chosen. There is some compassion that’s needed and some legislative responsibility to fund this provider network," Hadland said. "If folks want to get involved, they can certainly come to our website. We send out emails all the time asking people to contact their legislators to talk about why this is a big deal and why more funding is needed."

The AAPPD website can be found at or can be reached at (602) 510-9373.

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