Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Shortage threatens
court-ordered care

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press


If lawmakers don't approve a $42.5 million emergency appropriation before the end of this week, Hawaii will have to stop providing court-mandated services to 9,000 emotionally disturbed children, says state Health Director Bruce Anderson.

That could lead to an immediate takeover of the state's program by the federal court, Anderson told the Senate Ways and Means Committee yesterday.

But the committee put off a decision on the emergency appropriations bill until Friday, meaning the soonest it could pass the Senate is Monday.

Committee Co-Chairwoman Carol Fukunaga (D, Ala Moana-Makiki-Tantalus) discounted Anderson's alarm, saying she's sure the state administration will be able to find money to keep the programs going until the Legislature approves the bill.

Anderson said he already has borrowed $6 million from his department's payroll and $3 million from the Department of Education just to keep the program going this long.

"By the end of this week, we'll have used up all of the money," he said. "Beginning next week, we won't have any funds.

"We don't want to see any delay in delivery of services. I think you probably know the consequences of that," Anderson said, referring to repeated warnings that the federal court would intervene if services are stopped.

The 1994 agreement, known as the Felix consent decree after the family who sued the state, requires the state to improve educational services for students with mental disabilities.

The additional $42.5 million would bring the Health Department's total spending in the current fiscal year to $102 million.

The extra money would cover an unanticipated increase in the number of students seeking services and an expansion of those services, Anderson said.

Enrollment in the program is expected to grow from 8,488 as of last July 1 to 9,406 as of this coming July 1, but then is expected to stabilize, Anderson said.

Funding for next fiscal year is expected to drop to $85.6 million but then increase to $93.8 million the following year, assuming the Department of Education sets up school-based programs serving the needs of about 70 percent of the students, Anderson said.

Part of the delay in getting legislative approval of the bill is due to an apparent typographical error on the dollar amount that would send a Senate-approved measure back to the House for final approval.

The error listed the amount as $40.5 million, $2 million less than the amount sought by Anderson.

If the Senate leaves the amount at $40.5 million, the measure would go directly to Gov. Ben Cayetano after Senate approval. But correcting the number to $42.5 million would require the bill to go back to the House for final approval, Fukunaga said.


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