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Press Release

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DOE Press Office
(850) 245-0413

Setting the Record Straight: Contracting in the Division of Blind Services

The November 12 article and November 15 follow-up in the Tampa Bay Times contained errors of omission and fact, which may have led to unfounded conclusions.

Article: "Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the state's Division of Blind Services will now competitively bid its contracts."

Fact: During an interview with the reporter on October 11, Commissioner Stewart said the department was reviewing all contracts, including those of the Division of Blind Services (DBS), as part of the Governor's initiative to reduce contract costs. Reviewing contracts is a precursor to competitive bidding.

Specifically, discussions about bidding contracts had been underway since May 2012. The first documented formal process began in September with a request to DBS for a list of their 20 largest service contracts from the FDOE attorney who oversees the legal side of FDOE contracting and serves on the Governor's task force to reduce contracting costs.

Article: "Gov. Rick Scott, who has sought to privatize government services at an accelerated pace since taking office, has talked about strengthening contract transparency and uniformity. But state officials have done little to address contracting complaints."

Fact: The Division of Blind Services began moving to using private providers for service in 1988, prior to merging with FDOE. Statutes at the time exempted the division from seeking competitive bids. It is under the current Governor that the contracting process is being changed.

Article: "Division of Blind Services can bill taxpayers $58 an hour for travel time to meet with a blind person. The same organizations can charge taxpayers $2,000 or more to place one phone call."

Fact: The story refers to a fee schedule that is a federal requirement, which can apply when services are not covered by contract with a community resource provider (CRP). Most services are covered by contract and it is not the norm to pay for services via this schedule. For example, the fee schedule might be for a vision specialist to travel to someone's home and provide service. Fees can be negotiated to provide lower rates as was the case when the Bradenton district office negotiated the fee from $58 to $37.50 per hour.

The $2,000 cited is not an accurate amount used in any contract. There is no reimbursement for a single telephone call by a CRP.

Article: "The state agency with a $52 million budget has largely privatized its support programs as a way to save money and better serve a group of 11,000 Floridians in need, state officials say."

Fact: The entire $52 million annual budget is not expended on service contracts. In FY 2010/2011, $15,265,543 went to contracts. The larger amount of the budget is used for services provided directly by DBS staff.

Article: "Loosely written contracts also allow vendors to make big money by taking advantage of loopholes, the former employees say. A provider, for example, is paid from about $2,000 to $9,000 per month for each person it plans to serve. The state pays the money no matter how - or how many times - a provider helps a client." "So whether a provider makes 10 in-house visits, or just one phone call, the money comes in all the same."

Fact: Contract payments are based on budgetary limitations, as well as market cost findings resulting from a 2009 Public Consulting Group analysis of costs to provide services. The average annual reimbursement rates for the following programs are Blind Babies - $2691; Youth Transition from school to work - $9600. Approximations of these annual service amounts were incorrectly represented as monthly payments, when they should have been cited as annual payments per client. Both of these programs involve comprehensive services provided over an extended period of time, in most cases years. CRPs are required to submit detailed reports of services provided.

Article: "During the 2012 legislative session the Division asked for and received more than $540,000 in additional money to provide care for 201 blind babies on a state waiting list. But the vendors already received funding from nonprofit groups to cover the expenses associated with 172 of the same babies, documents show."

Fact: The average state funding level for services for a blind baby is $2,691 per baby, which is less than the average actual cost of services (approximately $4,000). In 2011-12, DBS served 473 babies through the Blind Babies program. The division requested $540,891 more from the legislature for the current fiscal year to serve 201 babies on the waiting list. DBS also shifted $8,073 from unused contract funds for a total of 204 additional babies. DBS will serve 677 babies in the Blind Babies program in fiscal year 2012-13. The increased funding is fully dedicated to serving blind babies.