Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Actress Eva Longoria joins fight in Texas to stop cuts of disability services

From The San Antonio Express-News in Texas:

A serious issue got a touch of Hollywood glamour March 1 when celebrity Eva Longoria (pictured) spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered at Morgan's Wonderland to rally against proposed cuts to services for those with intellectual developmental disabilities, or IDD.

As the petite star spoke, many in the crowd — made up of folks with disabilities such as mental retardation and autism, along with their caregivers and families — hooted, hollered and fist-pumped the air.

“When I heard about the budget cuts in Texas, I was outraged, personally hurt,” said Longoria, co-founder of a program for those with IDD in San Antonio. “We need those in Austin to hear us loud and clear — this is not OK!”

Under a bright blue sky, the crowd went wild.

Longoria, whose intellectually disabled sister, Liza, joined her on the stage in the parking lot of the special needs-focused park, wore the same red T-shirt as those in the audience, emblazoned with the words: My Future Is In Your Hands.

After the rally, she boarded one of four buses that squired the throng to Austin, where they were to spend an afternoon rallying on the Capitol steps and meeting with legislators to emphasize their opposition to the cuts.

The proposed budget would slash spending on IDD services by about 41 percent, Longoria said, which means some 10,000 people across Texas will lose access to programs such as group homes, respite care, assisted living facilities and foster care arrangements.

A Department of Aging and Disability Services spokeswoman said later that the proposed cut is 31 percent for community-based services.

Alice McIntire, 48, who lives in residential center for those with mental retardation, knew exactly what she planned to tell lawmakers in Austin.

“You're trying to take my home away from me,” she said. “If you do that I'll be crying, I'll be hurt. I don't want to leave my home.”

Cynthia Benjamin came to the rally with her son Charles, 22, who clutched a plastic dinosaur.

“I can't tell you how important support agencies are to parents,” she said. “Here's a perfect example: The other day my son had to be sedated to see the dentist and I couldn't carry him afterwards. What would I do without help?”

Ana Aponte said she would have to institutionalize her son Luis, who is 33 and has severe autism, if it weren't for funding that provides services that allows her to keep him at home.

“We want him to be surrounded by his family,” she said.

Tina Chang wonders how she will be able to afford doctor visits and medicine for her two profoundly autistic foster daughters, Linda and Esmeralda, if proposed Medicaid cuts go through.

“If we can't get services, it hurts our purpose that was given to us by God,” she said.

Gordon Hartman, a philanthropist whose own disabled daughter inspired the creation of Morgan's Wonderland, said those who advocate for people with IDD aren't asking for more money or services.

“We're simply asking state leaders not to take away all that we've worked so hard for up until now,” he told the crowd. “These cuts will have a devastating impact. If group homes and other services close, we could see people with developmental disabilities cast out onto the streets.”