Millions in Funding for Special Needs Students Missing

Photo courtesy of Scott StringerMillions of dollars intended for special needs students has been lost due to failures in Department of Education’s systems.  New York City’s special needs students were eligible for unclaimed Medicaid reimbursements to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

On Thurs., Dec. 29th, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, in collaboration with United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew, publicly demanded that city and Department of Education officials answer questions about the city’s failure to claim for Medicaid reimbursements. 

A 2009 federal audit revealed that money paid to the city for claims it could not properly document would need to be returned.  DOE struggled to adapt to new rules put into effect in September 2009 regarding Medicaid reimbursements for students in need.   DOE has effectively failed to seek out funding to which it is entitled.

Unfortunately this has been a known problem for some time; in 2005 DOE was warned about failing to properly file for reimbursements for Speech, Occupational and Physical Therapy services.  Stringer noted, “The result is that local taxpayers have been picking up the bill, and this is simply unacceptable at a time when our schools are crumbling under the weight of budget cuts.”

The DOE claims that they lacked the appropriate training, resources and staff to meet the regulations of the September 2009 filing process.  DOE spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan said in a statement to The New York Times, “The Medicaid reimbursement process has become increasingly cumbersome.” However, Stringer believes it is “ unconscionable that DOE is leaving millions of federal dollars on the table.”

The Borough President pointed out that Buffalo has received $34.2 million in Medicaid reimbursements in recent years by following correct claim procedure for the same special education services.  Buffalo has 47,000 special needs students, or 23 times fewer students than those in New York’s public schools. Between 2004 and 2010, the federal government paid out $558 million in such claims to smaller school districts across the state.

Stringer issued a letter to DOE seeking answers to key questions, including whether changes have been made to comply with federal guidelines on Medicaid reimbursement; whether steps have been taken “to identify immediate technology solutions to help collect documentation” for reimbursement, and whether DOE has designated a point person responsible for coordinating such activities.