Social services budget moves through legislature with focus on higher wages for HCBS professionals

Budget talks in the Utah Legislature are on their tail end after the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee finalized their prioritized ongoing and one-time funding requests last week and presented them to the Executive Appropriations Committee (EAC).

The social services budget—according to Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair and subcommittee member Senator Michael Kennedy (R – Cedar Hills)—is the largest budget in the state. The subcommittee requested about $725 million in ongoing and one-time funding.  

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

The social services budget covers the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Human Services (DHS), Department of Workforce Services (DWS), and a portion of the new Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), slated to operationalize on July 1. 

Earlier this month, Governor Spencer Cox signed House Bill 7, the $295 million social services base budget bill. This bill is separate from the subcommittee recommendations and allocates funding for existing, ongoing social services programs. It is used to be a base for the social services budget to give more attention to new and developing program funding needs, all of which will be included in the final budget bill. 

The Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee finalized their budget priorities last week with assistance from many agency presentations during committee meetings and recommendations from Cox’s executive budget

Kennedy says the subcommittee’s final budget priorities align with Cox’s recommendations. 

“We may move the numbers up and down from what the Governor recommends, but a lot of [what’s in his budget] are our top priorities as well. The Governor has a scrutinizing effort and we do as well, and many times we are coordinated in what we prioritize and what the Governor prioritizes as well.”

One of the biggest items in the subcommittee’s funding priorities is a base wage increase for professionals working in home and community based services (HCBS) and intermediate care facilities for intellectual disabilities (ICFID). 

“With our economy as it is, you can either take care of disabled individuals—which can be a challenge—for $12 an hour, or you can go work at Chick-Fil-A for $15 an hour,” says Kennedy. “It becomes a really difficult recruitment component as we look to take care of our most vulnerable individuals.”  

The subcommittee proposes appropriating roughly $70 million in ongoing and one-time funding to increase the base wage for these workers and provide a greater incentive to remain in their jobs. 

Kennedy also highlights the $4.2 million recommended for domestic violence shelter-based support services to support the “fundamental cost of operation of the 15 nonprofit domestic violence shelter-based service providers licensed by, and contracted with, [DHS].”

The subcommittee’s funding requests will remain in the EAC until near the end of the session, when all of the state’s budgets are compiled in one budget bill and signed before the end of the session on March 4th.

With roughly three more weeks until the session ends, Kennedy says it is now the time in the legislature where the budget talks decelerate and the policy talks accelerate. 

“You’re going to see a lot more floor time and a lot more policy committee time, and a lot less budget time. The budget is kind of a pyramid effort. It starts off at the base and gets spread out over time with a bunch of people, and then it concentrates into the EAC.”

Legislators have until Feb 22 to file a bill that has to be acted on before the end of the session.