Monday, February 14, 2011

California disability organization faces unprecedented cutbacks, threatening independence of many people with disabilities

From The Ukiah Daily Journal in Calif.:

Pamela Jensen, executive director of Ukiah Valley Association for Habilitation (UVAH) is not mincing words.

"I'm telling our clients UVAH may or may not be able to continue. We don't know what will happen, but everyone will be affected. I'm sending letters to families, so people can prepare."

The 50-year old non-profit is facing unprecedented cutbacks from California's Department of Developmental Services. "Governor Brown is recommending cuts totaling $750 million dollars. Because state moneys get matched with federal dollars, California will lose nearly a billion dollars in services," Jensen explains.

Governor Brown is proposing statewide Purchase of Service Standards, which would apply services equally to all disabled individuals. "The purpose of the standards is to limit services," says Jensen, suggesting the standards be entitled, "Purchase of Service Caps."

"Every single service will have some kind of ration on it. Some services will disappear. It's going to have a tremendous impact on every community, from infants to elders."

"240,000 disabled Californians receive services- respite, early intervention for infants, day and residential services, anything that a developmentally disabled person needs to support them in the community- help shopping or visiting the doctor."

Currently, local regional centers create their own purchase standards. "The regional system created standards and services appropriate to their areas," Jensen explains, pointing out how issues like transportation pose different challenges for disabled people living in rural or urban areas.

What angers Jensen is that legislators are being asked to approve cuts before they know the exact parameters of the Purchase of Service Standards and the effect they will have on constituents. "That's what I think is unfair- unfair to people whose lives are going to be impacted. Won't legislators feel badly if they didn't realize someone who was getting five days of service may not get any service at all?"

Cuts to In-Home Supportive Services are also anticipated, as well as cuts to client Social Security income. "Everything around them is just going away."

UVAH serves approximately 100 people daily and has a staff of 50. Some clients live independently, needing only a minimal amount of supervision or support. Others need 24-hour care.

"We serve people who need help eating, who can't use the restroom, as well as folks who drive to work at Wal-Mart. Who is the state going to turn their back on? The guy who will lose his job if he doesn't get services, or the person who will die if they are left alone?" Jensen opines.

Two public hearings were held in Sacramento. No additional hearings are scheduled. Jensen stated over 1,000 people went to Sacramento last Thursday to testify in front of the legislature.

Ironically, Jensen notes budgets for regional centers and state hospitals are increasing or remaining stable. "Regional centers are receiving $533 million dollars. They don't provide day-to-day assistance to clients. They can't give a client a ride in a car, help clients locate housing or help them manage money. Their job is to pay people to provide these services. Their budget is currently protected," Jensen notes.

State hospitals- which serve a total of about 2,000 individuals, are slated for a budget increase. "They're coming after the cost-effective alternative," Jensen bristles. "It costs $15,000 annually to serve an individual in a community-based program like UVAH. It costs $300,000 to care for an institutionalized person," she states. "The budget for those 2,000 people- $618 million dollars. Community services are being decimated. State hospital budgets are being augmented."

UVAH lost $350,000 from their 2010 budget. "We managed to survive. But if you take $750 million across the board, it would be a 20 percent cut to every service provider. I'm concerned how UVAH will survive a cut that severe."

Local communities has been subsidizing previous shortfalls. "The legislature mistakenly believes the community will be able to support us, but not 20 percent. At least the hearings help put faces on the numbers."

She states Assemblyman Wes Chesbro has received letters from clients. "They tell him, I like having my cat. I don't want to lose my home. He's been a strong supporter of people with developmental disabilities over the years. We're losing money, IHSS, life supports- he's looking at the big picture."

"I guess legislators must mentally disassociate themselves from the 240,000 people in their communities, even though the state is responsible for those people as well. One size will not fit all."

In her 30 years working with the disabled, Jensen has never been more concerned. "I don't know if UVAH will go away, but I fear our services will go away."

"I don't know if people realize how on the edge we are, because we're still here. It's going to happen overnight. As soon as we get the service standards we'll have 30 days to create a budget." And that budget will demand Jensen make Draconian cuts to programs which are the literal lifeline for disabled children and adults.

"Maybe they'll come up with a new number, like $500 million," she sighs. "Education is off the chopping block, but look who's on the block instead."

"We are going to Chesbro's office and writing letters. That's all we can do. This isn't my fight. This is the fight of the people who need and use these services. But I'm going to be beside them, every step of the way."

Jensen expects a vote sometime in March, with cuts effective July 1.

In Yuba City, a disability rights group called Mommy Tsunami is walking to the Capital. "What is our community going to do for it's disabled residents?"

"I'm hoping we're here to celebrate our 50th anniversary," says Jensen, sardonically.