Friday, September 18, 2009

Another budget shortfall, what will they cut now?

On September 17, 2209 the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released its latest predictions on our state’s budget. According to Dr. Arun Raha, the state’s chief revenue forecaster, he is cautiously saying that “the state’s economy has reached its lowest point and will soon be on the mend.” According to Victor Moore, director for the Office of Financial Management, we are looking at a shortfall of $1 billion or more.

Governor Gregoire’s response is “Although we believe the recession has bottomed out, it will take some time for revenues to recover. I am preparing a supplemental budget request that accounts for the revenue shortfalls we have experienced since May.” State agencies have each been asked to provide her with two budgets, one cutting 5% and a second that cuts 10%. With the Division of Developmental Disabilities already having taken deep cuts in administration and programs such as residential services, supported employment, Medicaid Personal Care and other critical areas for individuals and families with developmental disabilities, where can more be taken from?

This coming legislative session, which starts on January 11, 2010, will be a very short session focused primarily on fixing the budget shortfall. There will be committees looking at possible bills, but it is unlikely that any bill requiring funding will have a chance of making it through. That does not mean we don’t continue to educate legislators about the need for funding services in the community, but our focus will be on retaining current community services and getting policy bills through that can strengthen services in the community, but that don’t have a fiscal note.

Two studies commissioned by the legislature last session are scheduled to submit a report before the next session starts. One has to do with reducing Residential Habilitation Centers (state institutions for people with developmental disabilities) by 250 beds through either consolidation or closure of facilities. The other report is from HB 2078 which will create a screening tool and training for jail and corrections staff when a person with a developmental disability is incarcerated. The legislature will review those reports and may make decisions based on them.
There are some policy issues being considered by advocates that will not have a fiscal note driving them such as the follow-up on respectful language, recommendations for alternatives to guardianship, a DD rights statute and some other legal policy issues.

Our main focus though, will need to be ensuring that no more cuts are made to DD services. One of the ways we can do this is by offering the Governor and legislators efficiencies that will save money without cutting services. We also need to encourage legislators to use any savings or efficiencies in the DD system to “buy back” programs that have already taken cuts. It is especially important not to staff up at the RHCs, which are much more expensive than community services, but to instead build up services in the community.

Much will be riding on your advocacy this next legislative session. Be sure you are signed up on The Arc’s Action Alert Center at so that you can stay informed when your voice is needed on specific issues. You can also follow The Arc of Washington State on Twitter by following ArcofWA for action alerts that may change moment by moment. Change is made by those who show up, whether in person, by phone, text or email, just so your voice is heard.

Diana Stadden

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Senator Kennedy – Lion of the Senate, Champion for the People

Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, known as Teddy, was the biggest champion for those with disabilities in the United States Congress there ever was. His battle with brain cancer led to his death last week, just a couple of weeks after the passing of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, also a staunch advocate for those with disabilities and creator of Special Olympics.

The youngest of nine children, Senator Kennedy grew up in the shadow of a father who was active politically and in business, his brother Joseph Jr., who died in a plane explosion in WWII, brother John (known as Jack) who became the 35th US President but was assassinated before the end of his first term and brother Robert, who was also active politically and assassinated as he ran for president.

Senator Kennedy’s sister, Rose Marie (known as Rosemary), was considered to have an intellectual disability and her father had her undergo a lobotomy at age 23 hoping to control her mood swings. Instead, it left her incapable of speech and unable to care for herself. She lived in a residential care facility until her death. In 1968 another sister, Eunice, started Special Olympics, created to help people with intellectual disabilities develop self-confidence, social skills and a sense of personal accomplishment, in honor of her sister Rosemary. The senator’s son, Teddy Jr., lost a leg at age 12 because of bone cancer.

Senator Kennedy’s long list of achievements, over 300 bills he sponsored and passed, are highlighted by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Family Opportunity Act (which gives parents the ability to purchase Medicaid coverage for their children even if they are not low-income); the Help America Vote Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act. His fight for the rights and services that benefit people with intellectual disabilities are unmatched by any other member of Congress.

Unfortunately, the health care reform that Senator Kennedy tried so hard to get passed for most of his career has not yet come to pass. We must continue this fight for him, making sure our voices are heard on the importance of having health care reform that includes recognizing that people with disabilities are best served by receiving their services in their community, not in institutions, that there be no penalty for pre-existing conditions, that people receive necessary services regardless of the type of disability, including autism, that it include grants for training professionals on disability issues, standards for accessibility and usability of medical equipment by people with disabilities and that it lowers the cost of premiums and co-pays so that individuals with disabilities can afford to be covered. Stay informed and advocate for health care reform that will honor a man who did so much in his life to care for those most neglected.

Senator Kennedy once quoted President Hubert Humphrey’s “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life -- the sick, the needy and the handicapped." Society needs to step up and acknowledge those it so often tries to forget.

Keep fighting for what is right-
Diana Stadden