BATON ROUGE, La. -- Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert was joined by advocates for individuals with disabilities on Thursday as she announced $10 million in funding in Governor Jindal's proposed upcoming fiscal year's budget, which will dramatically expand access to home and community-based services for some of Louisiana's most vulnerable residents.

Governor Jindal's Fiscal Year 2015 executive budget proposal, which will be presented to Legislators on Friday, invests $10 million in expanding access to home and community-based waiver services. The FY 15 budget proposal includes more than $606 million in spending on waivers, and increase of almost 6 percent when compared to FY 14's proposed budget of $573.9 million.

If adopted, this investment will allow LDH to open access to nearly 2,500 waiver slots across programs both for individuals with developmental disabilities and those who are elderly or have adult-onset disabilities.

Secretary Kliebert said, "One of our top priorities is assuring that those children and adults who are living with disabilities in Louisiana are able to access supportive services in their communities that meet their unique needs and keep them in their homes. This $10 million investment allows LDH to open these critical waiver services to thousands of additional Louisiana residents and reduce waiting lists for services across all of our programs"

In FY 15, the funding will allow LDH to begin filling more than 2,250 slots across all waiver programs that had been allocated by the Legislature but had previously been frozen because of lack of funding in FY 2014 and also to add 200 new slots in LDH's most comprehensive waiver program for people with developmental disabilities, the New Opportunities Waiver (NOW) program.

Jason Durham, a "Dadvocate" from Clinton, said, "What a great day for the voices of a few to have been heard on behalf of many. As the Dadvocate for my daughter, Bailey Durham, I am just one among thousands of voices in Louisiana who advocate for their children, as well as all individuals with developmental disabilities. I am proud to stand with Governor Jindal, and Secretary Kathy Kliebert, as they announce $10 million dollars to fund lifesaving supports and services for hundreds of Louisiana citizens who daily live with developmental disabilities. This funding will provide for New Opportunities Waivers allowing individuals to live in their own homes surrounded by, and cared for by, the loved ones who know them best. Every day I am a proud father. Every year I am a proud advocate. Today, I am a proud Louisiana citizen."

Kay Marcel, a parent from New Iberia, and chairperson of the La. Developmental Disabilities Council said, "The Developmental Disabilities Council is gratified that funding to fill all of the vacant waiver slots for people with developmental disabilities and an additional 200 NOW slots is included in the Executive Budget.  These waiver services will be very beneficial to the people on the waiting list who have been waiting the longest.  We will continue to work with the administration and the legislature on system reforms so people with developmental disabilities are able to access services in a timely manner.  Today we are happy that the untiring voices of people with developmental disabilities and their families were heard."

Rebecca Ellis, a parent from Mandeville and Assistant Director of Northshore Families Helping Families said, "As both a parent of a child who has been on the waiting list for 7 years and as an assistant director of a resource center designed to provide support to individuals with disabilities and their families, I am happy to hear of the funding of attrition slots and 200 NOW slots in the Governor's budget. While I would like the entire waiting list to be eliminated, I know that seeing some people finally receive services will give families hope that their turn will come and that there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Ashley McReynolds, a parent from Baton Rouge and LaCAN Leader for the Baton Rouge region said, "As my son Cooper's advocate and a voice for thousands of individuals and families living with a developmental disability, I am so honored to be a part of this exciting day in Louisiana. The funding to fill ALL the vacant waiver slots, and 200 additional New Opportunities Waiver slots is a huge step in the right direction that will allow hundreds of families to care for their loved ones in their own home, and enable individuals to exercise their right of living an independent rewarding life as a vital member of their communities. Thank you Gov. Jindal and LDH Secretary Kathy Kleibert for recognizing the importance of individual supports and services."

Lois Simpson, Executive Director  of the Advocacy Center said, "Over 30,000 people with disabilities are waiting for a Community Choices Waiver, funding of these Waiver slots will help keep people who are eligible for nursing facility level of care in their own homes and communities rather than force them to receive these services in an institutional setting."

Last summer, in response to a budget shortfall in the final FY 2014 budget, LDH implemented heightened utilization controls for its home and community-based services provided through federal waiver programs. In order to effectively manage spending, LDH reserved waiver slot openings for only those individuals that met certain criteria, including those in emergency situations, individuals who were transitioning out of facilities and children aging out of other programs. This $10 million investment in FY 15 allows the Department to lift these restrictions and begin filling all currently appropriated slots.

By LDH's estimates, opening up the previously unfilled slots and the addition of the 200 newly appropriated waiver slots will ultimately remove more than 4,000 individuals from the Department's waiver waiting lists, either by offering individuals waivers services or by removing them from the list because they no longer desire the services. In addition, LDH's Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities is currently reviewing its own registry as part of its system transformation process, which it expects will remove another 750 individuals who have not responded to an offer for services or who could not be located.

LDH currently serves 16,304 individuals through waiver programs, which give those with disabilities access to services and supports in their homes and communities so they do not have to be institutionalized.