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Divided budget committee OKs small boost for employment programs for disabled

A divided Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning approved a $170,000 boost to the Community Supported Employment program in the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which includes sheltered workshops and other employment services for people with severe disabilities; the program has been cut by more than half a million dollars since 2008. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I think it’s time that we put just a teeny bit back into this program.”

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, offered a substitute motion to set the budget at the governor’s recommended level, just maintaining its base and not adding the boost. “This is a tough budget,” he said. “My understanding is that we don't have that money.”

Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, said lawmakers sometimes argue more about tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in budgets than tens of millions, but “sometimes these tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands have a huge impact.” He said, “I think it’s very important for these budgets to be properly scrutinized … but I think it’s also important to keep these things in perspective in the grand budgeting arena.” He said he’d support Mortimer’s motion, with the funding boost.

The program currently has more than 360 people on its waiting list, Mortimer said, with some waiting for up to three years to get in. Of the $170,000 budget boost, $64,000 would go to reduce the waiting list, $91,000 would provide a 3 percent increase in provider payments, the first in four years, and $15,000 would go to indirect costs. JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that an array of service providers aren’t getting rate increases in the agency budgets the joint committee is setting this year, nor is funding being provided for state employee raises. “I understand the argument for increasing capacity and reducing the client (waiting) list,” he said. “That would be easier for me to swallow than spending money for a 3 percent increase, given the nature of this year’s budget and everything else that’s going on,” he said.

Thompson’s motion was defeated on a 7-13 vote, with just Sens. Cameron and Keough and Reps. Bell, Eskridge, Thompson, Gibbs and Miller supporting it; Mortimer’s then passed on a 19-1 vote.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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