Florida ARF Participates in “Sweet Sixteen” Family Café

FamilyCafe2014.jpgTallahassee, FL (June 9, 2014) Florida ARF President & CEO Suzanne Sewell and Consultant Susan Goldstein represented the Association during the “Sweet Sixteen” 16th Annual Family Cafe which was held June 6-8, 2014, at the Hilton Orlando. This three-day conference provided a venue for individuals with disabilities and their families to learn about available services, connect with policymakers, and network with each other.  NFL legend and disability advocate Dan Marino discussed his advocacy through the Dan Marino Foundation and the opening of the Marino Campus for students with disabilities in Fort Lauderdale on Friday evening.  On Saturday morning, Governor Rick Scott joined The Annual Governor's Summit on Disabilities to share his vision for Floridians with disabilities and to hear from attendees about the issues that are most important to them. 

Florida ARF Representatives Participate in ANCOR Conference

ANCOR.jpgMiami, FL (May 7, 2014) This year ANCOR, our National Affiliate, hosted their 2014 national conference, Beyond the Envelope, in beautiful, sunny Miami on May 4-6, 2014. Florida ARF staff and members participated in the three day event.  Participants heard from national leaders on the role we play in transforming the way individuals with disabilities are supported and how to move toward a more powerful community voice.  Other sessions included fostering innovative support practices, testing of the “Google Glass” to enable individuals to enhance their lives, studying the managed care experiment in Kansas, assessing the impact of the new federal Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Rule, raising the bar for HCBS services, and reviewing the Department of Labor Home Care Rule to name a few.  Direct Support Professionals were recognized and challenged to prepare themselves to become leaders in the field.  Florida ARF staff came away with valuable information and gained new contacts on behalf of the Association.  Staff were also able to visit several member agencies in the South Florida area which is always an enjoyable experience.  Our member agencies are truly making a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities!

Florida ARF Extends a “Shout Out” to Member Agencies and Our Government Relations Team

FL-Capitol.jpgTallahassee, FL (April 28, 2014) On behalf of the Association staff, we say “Thank you, thank you, thank you” to our Government Relations Team and to our members who came to Tallahassee, made contacts with their Legislators, or encouraged Board Members and families to communicate their needs and the needs of the individuals they serve.  Much has been accomplished this year because so many of you were involved at the right time.  While we truly enjoy being your voice, the message is so much louder when so many participate.  So, stay tuned and stay plugged in! 

Florida ARF & Member Agencies Celebrate DD Days

Tallahassee, FL (March 18, 2014) Florida ARF and several member agencies along with other DD stakeholders gathered to celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Capitol.  The morning kicked off with Attorney General Pam Bondi issuing a proclamation during the Cabinet Meeting declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.  During the press conference, sponsored by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council and The Arc of Florida, stakeholders expressed the need to serve the waitlist over the next few years as well as the need for a provider rate increase to ensure quality care for the individuals served.  Florida ARF members and staff visited numerous legislators and their staff to convey the needs of our members as outlined in the Association’s platform.  Several member agencies spoke with APD Director Barbara Palmer about the issues and needs of community agency providers.  Florida ARF commends the advocacy efforts of our members!


Legislative Session Begins March 4, 2014

FloridaCapital.jpgTallahassee, FL (February 28, 2014) On March 4, lawmakers will come to Tallahassee to begin the 2014 Legislative Session, and their number one responsibility will be to produce a 2014 General Appropriations Act that will govern funding levels for all State entities for Fiscal Year 2014-2015.  Since our members rely heavily on state revenues, the Legislative Session is a very important event.  Fortunately, State revenues are trending upward but this also means many competing entities will be requesting revenues to offset funding reductions implemented over the last several years.  Florida ARF member agencies are encouraged to stay involved so they can clearly communicate the needs of the individuals served to those who will appropriate funding levels.  In this regard, we hope to see each and every one of you in Tallahassee over the next nine weeks along with the individuals you serve.  Let’s make sure that no Florida Legislator completes the 2014 Legislative Session without understanding the needs of the individuals you serve, and that they know about the great work our member agencies perform on a daily basis!  We firmly believe that once lawmakers understand the unmet need and the lack of resources available to respond to that need, the outcomes will be favorable.   


Governor’s Budget Looks Promising for Community Agencies

TaxCutBudget.jpgTallahassee, FL (January 29, 2014) Florida Governor Rick Scott released his budget recommendations for FY 14-15 today.  His recommended budget looks to be positive for member agencies but work will need to be done to achieve the Association’s Platform priorities.  President & CEO Suzanne Sewell stated “The Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities and its member agencies are delighted to see that Governor Scott has again responded to the needs of families and individuals who are on the waiting list for services.  Also, we are pleased that the Governor is seeking funding for Supported Employment services so that individuals with developmental disabilities can realize their employment goals. Finally, we want to thank Governor Scott for participating in so many APD Town Hall meetings over the last year and for taking the time to learn about the needs of the individuals served by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.  Governor Scott has shown that he is a true advocate for Floridians with disabilities.  His proposed budget demonstrates this commitment.”  The Governor’s Budget serves as a guiding document to begin drafting the state’s annual budget, but the Florida Legislature will ultimately make funding recommendations.  Below are a few key items from the Governor’s Budget.

Agency for Persons with Disabilities

•    Overall the proposed 2014-2015 It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget includes $1.14 billion for APD.
•    Scott is recommending funding to serve all the individuals with critical needs on the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) waiver waiting list in the amount of $20 million.  The money will be used to enroll about 1,400 individuals into the APD Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid waiver so they can pay for services in their local communities.
•    The proposal includes $1 million to assist people on the waiver waiting list who have indicated that they want to go to work. This second year of funding will pay for Supported Employment and supported internship services for about 400 people with developmental disabilities.
•    $1.8 million is recommended for a new APD data system that will provide service-specific information from providers regarding service delivery dates and progress, as well as better verification that services were delivered at the times and locations that were authorized by the agency.  Additionally, this data system will include an electronic client central record that will provide the agency with information that can be used to more effectively serve individuals with developmental disabilities by providing electronic information that will track provider services and progress of the client.

Department of Education, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation

•    $272,400 was recommended for a Disability Jobs Portal single point of contact.
•    Increase the VR Budget authority for Federal Rehabilitation Trust Fund in the amount of $27,064,866.
•    Increase the state funds in the amount of $18,287,681 in order for DVR to draw down additional federal funding.      


STAFF.jpgFlorida ARF & RESPECT of Florida Staff Wish You Happy Holidays & Best Wishes for 2014

Tallahassee, FL (November 18, 2013) The staff of Florida ARF and RESPECT of Florida wish each of our member agencies, employment centers, and stakeholders a happy holiday season and a prosperous 2014.  Our Board of Directors and staff are committed to assisting each of the over 100 community agencies we represent to achieve their mission to provide quality services and supports to individuals with disabilities.  Florida ARF and RESPECT thank each of you for allowing us the opportunity to represent your interests over the last year.  We look forward to serving you in 2014!


Florida ARF & RESPECT of Florida Celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month

KB_8333-M.jpgTallahassee, FL (October 9, 2013) Florida ARF and RESPECT of Florida joined the Governor, State Agency Heads, individuals with disabilities, and employers to celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month during the 8th Annual Exceptional Employers Award event at City Hall.  Governor Rick Scott recognized seven businesses for their commitment to employing people with disabilities during the event.  Governor Scott said, "These businesses have done an incredible job in providing jobs and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. mhh_5567.jpgWe have to support families’ efforts to find jobs for their loved ones, and that’s why my Florida Families First Budget invested $500,000 to provide job training skills for individuals with disabilities.  This is also why I issued an executive order to support state agency efforts to improve employment outcomes for persons with disabilities in the Sunshine State.  Florida ARF and RESPECT were pleased to be able to support the event with door prizes and award plaques made by employees with disabilities from Gadsden ARC.  President & CEO Suzanne Sewell was a part of stakeholders that joined the Florida Cabinet for the proclamation signing declaring October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Florida.


Florida ARF & FADSP Celebrate Direct Support Professionals (DSP) Recognition Week

FADSP-Logo-smThis week, September 8-14, Florida ARF & the Florida Alliance for Direct Support Professional (FADSP) are proudly celebrating DSP Recognition Week.  DSPs across the state are being featured who represent the backbone of our direct care service system.  Their stories clearly communicate the loving attitude and dedication of so many DSPs who give so freely of themselves to serve others.  

Governor Rick Scott has signed a letter recognizing the Association for raising awareness of the DSP profession during Direct Support Professional Recognition Week.  Scott stated “Direct support professionals provide a broad range of supports for many Floridians with disabilities.  These dedicated professionals help citizens with disabilities by increasing their independence, keeping them connected with their family and community, and offer support and encouragement on a daily basis.  Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week is a special opportunity to highlight the outstanding work of those who strive to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities.”  We could not agree with Governor Scott more.

To all the DSPs across Florida, we offer a hearty “Thank you for all that you do!”

Florida ARF Board Chair Announces Retirement


Tallahassee, FL (August 23, 2013) Katie Porta, a member of Florida ARF for over 25 years and the current Board Chair,  recently announced her retirement as the President/CEO of Quest, Inc.  She is now the CEO Emeritus of Quest which is a highly regarded human services agency in central Florida that serves individuals with disabilities.  Katie is now focusing on her health and wellness and will remain involved with Quest in her new capacity.  No words can adequately convey our gratitude for Katie’s dedication to Florida ARF and our mission.  Because of her efforts, thousands of individuals and families, and particularly children with Autism Disorders, have benefitted from the services and programs she has pioneered and managed.  Katie Porta has been a tireless advocate for Florida ARF, its member agencies, and the individuals with disabilities our members serve and has been involved extensively in many of the legislative successes we have realized.  Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Katie know her as a dear friend and inspiring leader.  Thank you Katie for your years of service to Florida ARF!  Vice Chair Troy Strawder will serve as Acting Board Chair until the Florida ARF Annual Business Meeting occurs in mid-September and a new Chair is elected.

Florida ARF Participates in APD Town Hall Meeting

APDTownHall.jpgPanama City, FL (July 17, 2013) Florida ARF attended an APD Town Hall Meeting hosted by Governor Rick Scott and Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) Director Barbara Palmer. Discussion centered around the state of the agency and highlighted the $36 million in funding from the 2013-2014 Florida Family First budget.  Governor Scott said, “I want every Floridian, including those with disabilities, to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams of finding a job and live their version of the American dream.  With our $36 million investment, we will be making a big impact on many families throughout the state.  For the first time in eight years, we are helping more than 750 people move off the APD waiting list where they will receive the services they need to participate in their community and develop skills to find employment. I am pleased that many people in the Northwest Region are being move off of the APD waiting list.”  Florida ARF President & CEO thanked the Governor and Representatives Gaetz and Patronis (who were in attendance) for the additional funding which will allow individuals on the waiting list to enroll in the APD Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid waiver and start receiving services in their local communities. Stakeholders, consumers, families, and public officials provided input on the great strides the Agency is making forward as well as pointed out areas the Agency can held the provider community and individuals served.  Sewell testified on the need for additional resources to fund transportation services for iBudget waiver recipients.

Florida ARF President & CEO’s 10th Anniversary of Service Celebrated

Suzanne - 10 Year Plaque.jpgTallahassee, FL (June 12, 2013) During the Florida ARF Summer Meeting, Florida ARF Board of Directors Vice Chair Troy Strawder surprised President & CEO Suzanne Sewell with a plaque to commemorate her ten years of service to the Association.  Over Sewell’s years of service she has served as a Medicaid Analyst, Director of Membership & Program Services, and for the last 4 ½ years as the President & CEO.  Strawder along with the members thanked Sewell for her years of service, advocacy, and dedication to the Association.  Congratulations Suzanne!


Florida ARF & Member Agencies Join Governor Scott to Celebrate $36 Million in Funding for APD Waiting List

Tallahassee, FL (May 31, 2013) Over the course of a few weeks, Governor Rick Scott visited Bishop Grady Villas, Pine Castle, and LARC to celebrate $36 million in funding for th e Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) waiver waiting list.  Previously the Governor visited the Association for the Development of the Exceptional and Central Florida Communities to share his budget proposal.  Florida ARF and disability stakeholders stood with Governor Scott in support of the increase in funding for APD in the 2013-2014 state budget.  Governor Scott said, “I want every Floridian, including those with disabilities, to be able to follow their dreams.  By investing $36 million in funding for APD for the first time in eight years, individuals with disabilities will be able to receive services in their communities and more people will be able to get the skills they need to have a job.”  Florida ARF President & CEO Suzanne Sewell said, “Our membership is thrilled that Governor Scott and lawmakers truly placed Florida families first this year while balancing the need to invest in economic development issues and improvements to Florida’s educational system.  We are delighted with the outcome of this budget and applaud all who supported the great initiatives within it.  We are also pleased that the governor has visited so many community provider agencies to share his Florida Families First budget and to express his commitment to support job development opportunities for individuals with disabilities.”

ADE.jpgBishopGradyVillas.pngCentralFloridaCommunities.png  LARC.png  PineCastle.png

The End is in Sight

FloridaCapitol.jpgTallahassee, FL (April 29, 2013) As of today, we are in the last week of the 2013 Legislative Session, and most of the state agencies our member agencies work with fared well regarding budget appropriations and substantive policy legislation.  Not having to fight budget cuts was indeed good!  Also, it is rewarding to see the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) is beginning to receive funding to address its waitlist for DD services.  Health care expansion was a contentious issue this year and is still being debated.  

While our membership did not agree on all topics that surfaced, we are an organization that allows for differences of opinion and we can “agree to disagree.” Please be assured that we have the commitment from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) Director Barbara Palmer to look at options to make the DD service system better.  Palmer has stated: “APD cannot make things better without provider help.  We are all a big team trying our best to provide a quality life for those we serve.”  

We have a tremendous amount of work to do to ensure that you can continue to provide quality services and supports that make a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities.  The need for more employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, inadequate provider rates, overly restrictive policy regulations, and lack of data management systems are issues that need immediate attention.  Let’s work together and get it done!

Florida ARF & Member Agencies Celebrate DD Days

Press Conference Photo.jpg

Tallahassee, FL (March 7, 2013) Florida ARF and several member agencies along with other DD stakeholders gathered to celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Capitol.  During the press conference, Governor Rick Scott shared his proposed 2013-2014 budget of $1.1 billion for APD.  This budget allocation provides $36 million in needed funding to people on the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) waitlist of more than 22,000 people.  The Florida Families First Budget also includes $2.5 million to assist people on the waitlist who have indicated that they want to go to work.  Governor Rick Scott said, “We are working to make sure every Florida family has the opportunity to get a job and a great education, and from our efforts – it’s working.  Since December 2010, Florida has created around 200,000 private-sector jobs and our unemployment rate continues to drop.  Our commitment to helping people on the APD waitlist, as well as assisting people who want to work, is another step in our plan to ensure that every Floridian has an opportunity to live the American Dream.”  APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “We greatly appreciate Governor Scott’s support of our work to improve the agency.  We have been meeting with families and stakeholders to determine the best approach to begin serving people on our waiting list.  We hope the legislature will also see the importance of this critical funding for the agency.  The additional money for employment opportunities will help individuals to become self-sufficient, enhance their quality of life, and benefit their families and Florida’s economy.”  Florida ARF commends the Governor on his budget proposal and were happy to participate in DD Day 2013.

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