Linn County supervisors will depend on a volunteer task force of 10 to 12 members to figure out the future funding implications for the county’s long-running Options of Linn County program.
Options opened nearly 45 years ago as a sheltered workshop for those with disabilities. It also offers daycare for adults unable to participate in the work programs that reimburse a “sub” minimum wage based on ability. It remains the only county-owned vocational program for the disabled in Iowa.
County supervisor Brent Oleson pushed for a discussion about Options on the Monday agenda, as well as the appointment of a task force to look at funding alternatives if reimbursement rates begin to fall short. The county provides a facility for the options program, but most of the funding comes from Title 19 federal dollars paid to the program to help each individual client. Program leaders say serious cuts in what’s called the “reimbursement rate” could put the program in jeopardy.
At the Monday informal meeting, supervisors noted that Options faces no immediate financial threat to its approximately $4 million annual budget. But they are concerned about the future of reimbursement and want to avoid a repeat of the situation with the Abbe Center and the recently-closed inpatient facility for the mentally disabled on County Home Road.
While the problems behind the scenes were well known, the public only learned about the difficulties facing the Abbe Center and the inpatient unit when a 30-day closing notice was delivered to the county.
Supervisor Ben Rogers noted that even if the county wanted to subsidize Options if reimbursement falls short in the future, state law prohibits the shifting of general fund tax dollars to cover any shortfalls in mental health programming.
Other supervisors remarked that it’s unlikely reimbursement rules would change before July 2015. That means supervisors, and program leaders, have a period of time to prepare and come up with alternatives.
Several parents with children, or adults, involved in Options programs praised the effort by supervisors to get ahead of any future problems before it becomes too late to do anything.
Supervisors are expected to appoint members of the task force at their formal meeting Wednesday. Supervisor Brent Oleson had originally spoken of getting some sort of a report by the end of the year. However, others believed it might take six to nine months to do a thorough job, including surveying other states to determine how vocational problems for those with disabilities are handled there.