Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hundreds of disability advocates in Florida chant "no more cuts" at Capitol

From the Pensacola News Journal in Fla:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Chanting "no more cuts," hundreds of advocates for the disabled converged on Florida's Capitol today to put human faces on the $170 million in spending cuts Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to make last week in payments to service providers.

"This is no way to run a business -- this is no way to run a state," shouted Rich LaBelle of the Family Network on Disabilities, at a rally on the steps of the Senate Office Building. "Gov. Scott, you are devastating people's lives."

Scott on Thursday ordered a minimum 15 percent cut in payments to providers who serve Floridians with such conditions as autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual handicaps, Down syndrome and other disorders. The cuts could rise to 30 or 40 percent for group homes and other businesses that employ caregivers, as administrative allowances were also eliminated by the 90-day emergency order.

The governor said Tuesday he had to act to close an unfunded gap of $170 million at APD. Advocates said they were given no notice and some will have to lay off employees or close, taking independence from many people and turning them back to their families -- or to institutions that cost the taxpayers far more than in-home help.

Many parents and providers brought people in wheelchairs, as well as children with autism and physical disabilities -- many with hand-lettered signs pleading for Scott to reverse his action. The governor was in South Florida today, but the demonstrators fanned out among legislative offices, as next year's state budget was debated by House and Senate members.

Organizers of the protest distributed bright yellow "Don't hold your breath" vouchers, drawn like a dollar bill, with Scott's picture at the center, challenging Scott to provide two hours of care for a handicapped person. Demonstrators agreed to bring the vouchers to Scott's office Wednesday afternoon.

"It cannot keep on," said John Kirchner of Winter Park, who runs A-Plus Home Aid and is disabled himself. "Rick Scott does not understand that the people coming in our homes, taking care of these individuals, are not just punching in and punching out. They provide a vital service."

Mayor John Marks welcomed the service providers, family members and patients to Tallahassee. He said he joined the group because his niece's daughter is autistic and "I don't know if there's a family anywhere that is not affected by some form of disability."

Speakers at the rally stood before a large banner that asked, "Does Gov. Scott HATE people with disabilities?" Picket signs in the crowd carried such messages as "Provider Cuts Hurt," "We Deserve Health, Safety and Dignity," and "Gov. Scott is greedy. He takes from the needy."