Sunset Advisory Commission gives harsh review of state’s social services

05/29/2014 5:56 PM

05/29/2014 5:57 PM

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has issued highly critical reports of the state’s four social service departments and has made tough recommendations that include closing six of the 13 residential facilities serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The four departments which have been reviewed are under the Health and Human Services Commission, and are charged with caring for some of the state’s most vulnerable people such as abused children and dependent adults.

Constant staff turnover, facilities badly in need of repair, quality of care and skyrocketing costs are a few problems the commission cited in calling for a major overhaul of the departments, and the closure of some state-supported living centers.

Although the troubled Austin State-Supported Living Center was the only one specifically named for closing, the commission recommends appointing a task force to determine the five others that would be closed in five years.

Any recommendation calling for shutting down facilities usually triggers an outcry, especially in the communities where they are located.

For example, the Mexia State-Supported Living Center is the biggest employer in Limestone County and already officials there are concerned about the economic impact if it were to be shuttered, the Waco Tribune reported. In 1992 the then-Mexia State School was selected for closing, but a community campaign persuaded Gov. Ann Richards to reverse the decision.

There are about 3,650 residents — down from more than 8,000 about 10 years ago — housed in the state-supported institutions at an annual cost of $661.9 million. The report says consolidating facilities and sending many of the disabled to community-based programs could save $148.1 million a year by 2023.

The Sunset Advisory Commission, established in 1977 to assess the continuing need for a state agency, is expected to make hard recommendations, but none are put into effect without the opportunity for public input and final approval by the Legislature.

Let your voice be heard on these latest proposals, and on what may be suggested for the other 16 agencies and departments under review for the next legislative session.

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