PROVIDENCE — The state agency responsible for helping infants and toddlers with developmental delays has finally sent out the required notice that Rhode Island is not in compliance with federal law governing services for the youngest Rhode Island children with disabilities.
The notice comes two weeks after the Boston Globe and R.I. PBS reported on the ongoing crisis in Rhode Island’s Early Intervention program, which serves children under the age of 3 with developmental disabilities. The program is experiencing long wait times for critical services, beyond the 45-day timeframe required by federal law.
The Globe report included the fact that the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services had not yet sent out a required public notice about the federal enforcement action back in June by the US Department of Education. Asked why the public wasn’t notified, a spokesperson told the Globe the agency had until mid-October to send the notice.
The June letter from federal education officials determined Rhode Island was in the “needs assistance” category in its effort to comply with the section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act pertaining to early intervention.
As of mid-September, there were 862 infants and toddlers waiting for an initial evaluation for Early Intervention.
The health and human services agency sent out the public notification in a news release on Friday afternoon.
“EOHHS recognizes the tremendous benefit of Early Intervention programs and has been working tirelessly to address the concerns outlined by the Department of Education,” the agency wrote in the release.
It was the second year in a row that Rhode Island was placed in the “needs assistance” category, but no similar notification was sent out last year. Spokesperson Kerri White said sending a news release was not required in 2022, and data was posted on the agency’s website.
Friday’s public notice detailed several efforts that have been made thus far to improve the situation, including a Medicaid rate increase in 2022 and millions in COVID relief funds directed toward early intervention providers.
Earlier this week, the agency sent a budget request to Governor Dan McKee asking for another increase to the Medicaid reimbursement rates starting in October 2024, which providers say is badly needed to hire and retain more staff to eliminate the waitlists. The increase would cost $1.9 million.
The EOHHS request for next year was half of what the Office of Health Insurance Commissioner had recommended in a recent Medicaid rate study. The health and human services agency suggested phasing in the other half the following year.
The nine agencies that provide early intervention are paid through the child’s health insurance, including Medicaid and private insurers. The private health insurance companies have to pay at least the state’s Medicaid rate for the services.
It is not yet clear if McKee will include the rate increase in his proposed budget, which is due in January. A spokesperson said earlier this week the governor would be “looking seriously at increasing resources for Early Intervention” in the upcoming year.
In 2022, McKee did not include EOHHS’ request for a Medicaid rate increase in his budget proposal, but it was put back in by the General Assembly before passage.
Advocates from the Right from the Start campaign, which is pushing for more resources for the program, called the new $1.9 million proposal from EOHHS a “down payment.”
“We do not believe this amount is enough to eliminate the staffing challenges and waiting lists,” said Leanne Barrett, senior policy analyst at R.I. Kids Count. “We will continue to work with Governor McKee and the General Assembly to ensure that Rhode Island’s EI system has adequate operating funds to pay competitive wages.”