State elected officials are not providing the necessary leadership to protect persons with disabilities from harmful cuts to human services, according The Arc of Minnesota, an advocacy group for persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.
“Our legislators and the governor must promote innovations in human services, not just propose more service cuts,” Pat Mellenthin, The Arc of Minnesota Executive Director, said at a March 23 news conference. “These cuts are a tax on our most vulnerable citizens, and come on top of cuts of $500 million for services already made in the last seven years. They can lead to serious medical or dental issues, place greater stress on families whose children have disabilities, and result in a loss of independence and greater isolation from the community.”
The Arc of Minnesota provides advocacy and support for persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families so they can choose how they live, learn, work, and play in their communities. It has 5,400 members and 12 affiliated chapters statewide.
At the news conference, families who have children with disabilities revealed the toll that cuts and insufficient funding have already taken. Kathy Sanders of Coon Rapids has a daughter, Jenny, who has significant disabilities. Jenny Sanders requires 24-hour care but her personal care attendant (PCA) services have been cut. “Now, because of state budget cuts, my daughter’s staff can only work 6.5 hours a day—less than half of what she was receiving,” said Kathy Sanders. “I’ve laid off two PCAs and cut hours for the other two.” Sanders is a single parent, works full-time and has to also deal with her own health issues and the health issues of her parents. “I’m not here today to ask for sympathy, but to try to give some understanding of how these PCA cuts are affecting our lives and what it means to us,” she said. “I’m just a parent trying to do right by my daughter and help her become as independent as possible, and keep our family together. But I need help to do that—including real leadership from our elected officials.”
Steve Hayes of Plymouth said his family has waited nine years for services that would eventually let his son live successfully and safely in the community and give the family peace of mind. The governor has capped the number of these services available to families. “My son has significant needs that require 24-hour care,” said Hayes. “As he gets bigger and stronger every day, his care becomes more demanding. As my wife and I age, our biggest fear is our continuing physical ability to care for him. I have arthritic knees and a repaired shoulder, and I have successfully weathered a bout with cancer. My wife has had three knee surgeries in the last 10 years. Too many families have passed their breaking point waiting for services.”
Betsy and Erin Davies of Richfield are also bearing the burden of budget cuts. Betsy adopted four children with disabilities and has one foster child. Betsy’s son Michael, who has autism, has already seen a 50 percent cut in the staff hours for his personal care attendants, and doesn’t have staff to get him to therapy appointments. Her daughter Erin also adopted two children with autism. Because of budget cuts last year, Erin’s children are no longer eligible for services she thought would be there for her family. “When we adopted our children, we thought that the supports would be available to assist them,” Betsy said. “The cuts will make it tremendously difficult for us to provide the care that we want to provide to all our kids.”
Services for people with disabilities make a big difference in their lives, and those that give individuals and families more control can cost less than traditional services.
Kenny Moore has signed a lease to move into his own apartment in West St. Paul, thanks to the Housing Access Services Program, a collaborative effort between The Arc and the Minnesota Department of Human Services. “I’m nervous but excited to get my own place,” Moore said. “I know I can live by myself, and this gives me a chance to prove it.” His apartment will also cost the state less than the foster care home where Moore has lived for the last four years.
“Our elected officials should be strongly advocating for innovative services like Kenny’s,” said Mellenthin. “Programs like these can help create a more sustainable social service system that also helps people with disabilities live in and contribute to their communities.”
The governor’s 2010 sup-plemental budget would cut $347 million in human services — larger than cuts proposed for any other area of the state budget. His cuts would eliminate physical, occupational and speech therapy for adults on Medical Assistance; reduce rates to service providers; cap the number of new services for the 4,000 Minnesotans who are waiting to live in the community; and eliminate specially-prescribed diets for low-income Minnesotans with serious medical conditions, among others.
The House bill has fewer cuts to human services in its budget than the governor’s proposal, but it still totals $155 million, and some House proposals would also make harsh cuts. For example, a bill heard in Minnesota House committees last month accelerates last year’s cuts to personal care attendant (PCA) services. PCA services are one of the most cost-effective ways to help individuals with disabilities remain as independent as possible.
“The cuts being proposed now have the potential to cost the state even more later, as people with disabilities are forced to forego preventive care and therapies that maintain their health and abilities,” said Mellenthin. “If we abandon these services now, the state will likely face greater costs later, like treating health crises in emergency rooms or trying to recover the skills people have lost.” n
-Mike Gude is Communications Manager at The Arc of Minnesota