Saturday, January 29, 2011

In California, woman with CP explains what the devastating realities of state cuts mean to her life

From the Oakland Tribune:

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Kimberly Williams (pictured) chipped her molar last year, she couldn't go to the dentist to fix it because the state had cut dental care funding for the developmentally disabled.

Instead, Williams, who has cerebral palsy, said she had to wait until the chipped tooth turned into a "medical emergency" in order to receive proper medical attention.

In the months that followed, Williams' tooth worsened, first turning into an abscess and then an infection that swelled to the point where Williams could not open her mouth. Yet, she said, she continued through the excruciating pain because "I'm not a baby."

Eventually, Williams, 46, was able to have her condition treated after an emergency room doctor declared her infection a medical emergency and the state finally agreed to pay to treat her, she said.

Williams' dilemma serves as a perfect example for what more than $700 million in state budget cuts to the developmentally disabled will mean to those who count on the money to survive.

The Antioch resident shared her struggles Jan. 28 with dozens of others who have disabilities and the service providers who help them during a town hall meeting held in hopes of persuading the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to lessen the cuts currently proposed.

In an attempt to solve the state's more than $25 billion budget deficit, Brown has proposed cutting more than $750 million from the state's developmentally disabled support system, or roughly 16 percent to 27 percent of its overall budget.

Those cuts, service providers and developmentally disabled residents said Friday, would basically kill a system created to help those most in need.

"This is the kind of cut that will destroy the system," said Barbara Maizie, executive director of Contra Costa ARC (Advocacy, Respect, Commitment). "This number has to be smaller; this cut is not survivable and this group doesn't have the political influence to get their way."

The East Bay Developmental Disabilities Legislative Coalition sponsored the town hall meeting in Oakland in hopes of building more political influence to lessen the proposed cuts.

The meeting consisted of dozens of disabled residents who told stories about how programs funded through the state have allowed them to lead productive lives and deal with their disabilities.

Their struggle to gain political support, however, was evident in the attendance of only two elected leaders, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Other elected officials, including assembly members Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, and Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, state senators Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, and representatives George Miller, D-Martinez, and Pete Stark, D-Fremont, sent legislative aides instead of attending the meeting.

Nevertheless, the coalition spent three hours explaining how service providers are crucial to the lives of the disabled and how the budget cuts proposed would not only hurt disabled residents but also the state's economy.

More than 100,000 state residents work within the developmentally disabled sector, which generates $400 million to $500 million for the East Bay economy alone, Maizie said.

If the proposed budget cuts are passed, she said, hundreds of jobs will be lost and service providers will be forced to close their businesses.

"This is something that has a major impact on the economy," she said. "The job losses would be drastic."

But more importantly, the cuts would drastically hurt the lives of the disabled, such as Nicole Bouslog, 34, who could not leave her bed for two years because the state cut the funding she needed to fix her wheelchair.

"I had no life, I had no freedom and I had no self-respect," Bouslog, of Antioch, said. "I felt like I was in hell. I was stuck in bed, a prisoner of my own body."

In addition to seeking help from the state legislature to lessen the burden on the disabled, participants at the meeting also urged residents to support a series of tax increases that will go before voters in June.

Without those tax increases, the group said, the cuts to the developmentally disabled will be even higher.

"Without the increases, the cuts will be twice as bad," said Mark Polit, chairman of the East Bay Developmental Disabilities Legislative Coalition and the father of a developmentally disabled son. "There is not a lot of flexibility in this system to accommodate additional budget reductions."

While the group understands that they must face some cuts to the support system, many said Friday the state appears to be focusing on them because they do not have the same political clout as other groups.

"We all understand we will get cuts, but this cut has to be smaller," Maizie said. "This is about moral responsibility."