Legislature

Unclear language prevented $750,000 for disability program, director says

The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

DES MOINES — Three-quarters of a million dollars for a program that helps mentally and physically handicapped individuals find employment was not allocated as intended because of unclear legislation, the state health department’s top official said Tuesday.

Iowa Department of Human Services director Chuck Palmer appeared Tuesday before lawmakers on the state’s legislative rules committee to explain why the department did not, as lawmakers intended in the state’s 2015 health care budget, allocate $750,000 to increase supported employment rates.

Palmer said although he knew that was legislators’ intent, he said the final draft of the 2015 health care budget bill did not contain sufficiently specific language detailing how that $750,000 was to be spent.

Palmer said because the budget bill language was not sufficiently clear, he did not feel he had the legal authority to allocate the money in the way that he knew was legislators’ intent.

The money instead went into the state’s general Medicaid budget.

“What I was left with was a decision: Can I go ahead? Because I knew legislators on our (budget) committee did want money to go to supported employment. But I had no language to do it,” Palmer said. “Without language, I made a decision that I didn’t have legislative intent or direction.”

The redirected funding did not sit well with multiple legislators, including Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, who during this year’s health care budget debate made impassioned remarks about the issue and symbolically introduced then immediately withdrew an amendment that would have canceled Palmer’s salary for the coming fiscal year.

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, who has an adult daughter with intellectual disabilities and is a frequent advocate for people with disabilities, said she believes the supported employment language was written into an early draft of the 2015 health care budget bill but “was somehow dropped” in later revisions.

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“Several legislators are disappointed with what happened,” Jones said at Tuesday’s meeting. “At some point it becomes water under the bridge … but at the same time we have questions.”

During this year’s recently completed legislative session, lawmakers did not budget any new money for supported employment in the coming fiscal year.

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