Children Should Not be Budget Cuts, Minnesota Rallies to Keep Personal Care Assistance

The Arc of Minnesota Steve Larson image

The Arc of Minnesota's Steve Larson.

Hundreds of advocates descended on the State Capitol in St. Paul Minnesota to protest a “cuts only” approach to balancing the state budget. Most at stake are ongoing cuts to the state’s personal care assistance (PCA) program. “We have got to really look at what the impact is, not only fiscally, but on human life.”

Pat Mellenthin, Executive Director of The Arc of Minnesota is on the frontlines and urged lawmakers to look beyond the hard numbers.

“The PCA provides in-home care for people with disabilities to live independently,” she said. “I think we’ve got to really look at how we can get better at serving people who have needs – not just cutting for the sake of cutting, which helps no one and oftentimes cost us more in the long run.”

Minnesota’s assessment for eligibility went into effect last year and since then, more than 4,800 individuals had their PCA hours reduced and even eliminated. Come July 2011, stricter eligibility requirements will commence and an additional 2,200 individuals – mostly children – will face the elimination of their PCA support.

For parents of children with special needs in Minnesota, the future is uncertain. Parent Betsy Davis adopted four special needs children and is in the process of adopting two others. Davis was confident and had been assured that her children would receive the services they needed, but last year, her two oldest sons’ PCA hours were cut by half.

Davis anticipates further cuts, saying “They’re taking money away from the most vulnerable children that we have to take care of, and that’s not the place to cut money; that’s not the place to make budgets balance. Children should not be budget cuts.”

Image courtesy of The Arc of Minnesota.

Transit Cuts in LA Hit People with I/DD

When The Arc Baton Rouge Executive Director Barry Meyer learned that the Baton Rouge Metro Council was considering a vote cutting services and raising prices, he was stunned. Meyer knew that cuts would severely impact people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Cuts to services and raised fares would hit those that relied on these services most.

The Capital Area Transit System (CATS) faces a $1.2 million budget shortfall.  After three decades of providing transportation to Baton Rouge, CATS said it has no choice but to cuts services and raise prices.

Advocates Make the Difference

Thanks to advocates like The Arc Baton Rouge and other citizens, CATS bus fares will not be increased and routes will not be eliminated in February.   While the service will continue for the short term, rejecting the money-saving measures means that the CATS bus system may shut down in October.

The Metro Council recently voted 7-5 in support of a motion to reject the service changes.  Meyer knew there would be hardship for those that rely on the bus, especially for employment, medical appointments and more.  When he first learned of the proposals, Meyer said, “I was thinking maybe as much as 20 percent, but the initial proposal was a 128 percent increase in current rates,” he said.

For those that depend on the CATS system, like Lynette Williams, a resident of Baton Rouge with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, a change in fare and services would significantly change how she gets to work.

For Bobby Martin who works with Williams at Metro Enterprises in Baton Rouge, where he’s been employed for 38 years, says without CATS, he would lose his job.  Martin’s aide noted that, “Bobby’s parents are both in their 80’s and they can’t do his drive.”

Currently, a one-way ticket on CATS is $1.75 for individuals covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Under the new proposal, the price would be $4 for the same ticket.

The Arc of Indiana Assails Budget Cuts

Indiana State Capitol Building imageWith 2011 barely a month old, advocates in Indiana reeled from incoming reports that Indiana’s budget crunch has become so severe that some state workers suggested to families that they leave their family members with disabilities at homeless shelters.

While the Indiana Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services (BDDS) officially said this is not the agency’s policy, parents were told this was one option when families can no longer care for children at home and have not received Medicaid waivers that pay for services that support individuals living independently.

While news reports said that “there have been no confirmed cases of families dumping severely disabled people at homeless shelters because Indiana wouldn’t provide the care needed,” advocates received conflicting reports.  Kim Dodson, Associate Executive Director of The Arc of Indiana asserted that reports had been received of state workers in several BDDS’s eight regional offices steering families to take adults with disabilities to homeless shelters.

Funding at Risk Across the Country

From coast to coast, funding for basic services is at risk and thousands will continue to be hit hard.  Advocates know more budget cuts undermine the ability of an individual to make choices about where they live, work and enjoy the freedom to live independently.  As one disability advocate said, “the bottom line is that the more budget cuts we endure, the more our civil rights are reduced.”

Waiting lists for waivers in Indiana is 10 years and The Arc of Indiana has been vigilant in addressing the needs of thousands currently on the list.  In late 2010, The Arc of Indiana kicked off its next phase of the Pathways Campaign – a collaborative effort to redefine Indiana’s system of programs and services for people with developmental disabilities.

“With waiting lists now reaching over 20,000 people,” said John Dickerson, Executive Director of The Arc of Indiana, “the wait for too many families remains too long.”  In working for systems change through the Pathways Campaign, “we remain committed to advocating for and working with the state to move as many people as possible off waiting lists each month, and to providing Medicaid waivers to those facing emergency, crisis or an end to school aged residential programs.”

Recently, Dickerson was featured in PBS’ Need to Know addressing What Happens When Care Runs Out?  With thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities sitting on waiting lists, this has reached a crisis point in communities across the country.

Image courtesy of Flickr user nicholascollins.

What Happens When Care Runs Out?

Thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have their names sitting on waiting lists across the country, hoping they can gain access to the services and support they need to live normal lives. Family members wonder what will happen when funding for services for their school-aged children runs out.

It’s a grim picture.

Watching this segment from PBS’ Need to Know will give you just a glimpse into the world of a person with an intellectual or developmental disability and their family. It’s families and individuals like those highlighted in the story that The Arc, and in this case, The Arc of Indiana helps every day.

This is why The Arc does what it does. Our more than 700 chapters across the country provide unique services and supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We create national initiatives – like the Walmart Foundation: School-to-Community Transition Project, which funds programs that help young adults transition from schools to community settings – to foster solutions to complicated problems.

And, as one father says in the story, “to uplift those who are not as uplifted as we are.”