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

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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.”

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The Arc of Indiana Assails Budget Cuts

With 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.

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More State Budget Cuts Mean Fewer Civil Rights for People With IDD

NYSARC’s latest “News & Alerts/Legislative Advocacy Network” spotlights services to people with IDD being cut by state governments across the nation to balance budgets and stem acute fiscal crises.

Budget cuts would be devastating to service providers and to those who receive services, like Maryland resident Ken Capone, who has cerebral palsy. Capone, a self-advocate and public policy coordinator for People on the Go said, “I just got approved for in-home services. I live with my mother. She’s in her 70s and is still my primary caregiver. I don’t want to lose the services that I just received because of the cuts. It’s scary what would happen if I did lose my services.”

From coast to coast – from Washington to Massachusetts – funding for basic services is at risk and thousands will be hit hard. The Maryland Secretary of the State’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says “we’re beyond the point where painless cuts can be made.”

Recently we shared advocacy efforts by The Arc of Texas on behalf of more than 4,500 people with IDD in Texas “trapped” in nursing homes providing inadequate care. The Arc and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities joined to file a class-action lawsuit against Texas along with six individuals with IDD.

The Arc knows that most people receive better care in a community-based facility or in their own homes and in this instance, “Many are denied the opportunity to live where they choose.” said Mike Bright, executive director of The Arc of Texas.

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 in Boston said, “the bottom line is that the more budget cuts we endure, the more our civil rights are reduced.”