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The State Budget: No “upside” for persons with disabilities

by Michelle K. Wolf

March 18, 2011 | 11:39 am

In Joan Didion’s powerful memoir “

The Year of Magical Thinking

” detailing her grief process after losing her husband, Gregory Dunne, she talks about a seeing their family doctor who is also a good friend. He asks her how she is and just hearing the question prompts a shower of tears. “I just can’t see the upside in this,” is how she finally answers the doctor.

Although by no means an equivalent situation, that quote pretty much sums up the situation now faced by children, teens and adults with development disabilities in the State of California.

In a week filled with images of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, ongoing fighting in Libya and the savage murder of the Fogel family in Israel, you may have missed the news report that the State Legislature approved over $6 billion in cuts to health and human services in California. Just as a reminder, here’s what six billion looks like: $ 6,000,000,000.

For persons with disabilities who are low-income and have complex conditions, these cuts will impact every aspect of their lives, from the reduced hours of in-home help with the most basic tasks of everyday living such as toileting and eating to capping the costs of hearing aids for Medi-Cal adult recipients to $1,510 a year, which in most cases will only pay for one very basic hearing aid that isn’t suitable for many adults with special needs.

In addition, Medi-Cal providers are getting a 10% permanent cut on top of previous cuts, which means that fewer doctors and clinics will even agree to see Medi-Cal patients. And public school budgets including special education, are also taking a huge hit, with more pink slips coming soon.

Direct cuts to persons with disabilities are coming by way of “service standards” which sound good but really means rigid rules that limit “the type, scope, amount, duration, location, and intensity of services and support purchased by regional centers for consumers and their families. The “standards” could even “prohibit the purchase of specified services”—whether the consumer needs them or not.

Yes, I understand that our state budget is in shambles and there’s not enough money to go around no matter how much we beat our chests and picket the State Capitol, but I’m not seeing any creative solutions to covering this gap either. How about having all the financial institutions in California that got federal stimulus funding to provide no-interest loans to social service providers and school districts? Or having the top 50 foundations and wealthy individuals give away an extra percentage point or two of their investment dividends to close some of the gaps? Working together in new ways to help the most vulnerable among us could actually be an upside.

For more information about the state cuts to persons with developmental disabilities, go to Keep the Lanterman Promise at http://keepingthelantermanpromise.net/ and Advocacy Without Borders: The California Disability Community Action Network at http://www.cdcan.us/


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