Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cuts to disability employment programs could be devastating in Massachusetts

From the Worcester Telegram:

Eighty-two-year old Rollin C. Lane thinks the work program his 52-year-old daughter participates in has been a life-saver: for both his daughter and himself. (Both are pictured.)

Each weekday morning for the past 30 years, his daughter, who has Down syndrome, has been picked up at their Leominster home and bused to ARC Community Services at 564 Main St., Fitchburg, where she and other mentally disabled residents from northern Central Massachusetts do subcontracting work.

Some of the work involves putting handles on paint buckets, assembling paint brushes, putting mailings together and shredding confidential papers. Others go to off-site jobs in grocery stores and other companies.

The House Ways and Means fiscal 2010 budget has reduced funding for the day employment program by $7.4 million. If it isn’t restored and is not in the final budget agreed on by the House and the Senate, Kimberly A. Lane and some of the other 6,000 severely mentally disabled people will have nothing to do but to sit at home or be placed outside the home.

Mr. Lane, whose wife died nine years ago, said loss of the program would devastate his daughter.

“When she gets off the bus, she says to me, ‘Tomorrow?’ I say, ‘Yes, you’re going back tomorrow.’ This is the only thing she has in life, really,” said Mr. Lane, who is wheelchair-bound and preparing for a second hip transplant in May.

ARC chapters in Fitchburg and Southbridge are among 21 in the state that could be affected, as well as agencies like Seven Hills Foundation in Worcester, which serves 27,000 people throughout the state including about 1,000 in the day employment program.

“I suspect if the budget cuts do in fact remain intact that a number of people will be impacted,” said David A. Jordan, president of Seven Hills.

He said cutting employment support for the severely mentally disabled is “penny-wise and pound-foolish” because there are not many programs intended to move people off state funding mechanisms.

Leo V. Sarkissian, executive director of ARC of Massachusetts, is urging people to ask their legislators to support an amendment state Rep. John W. Scibak, D-South Hadley, filed to restore the $7.4 million in the state Department of Mental Retardation fiscal 2010 budget. (DMR’s name will change to the Department of Developmental Services on June 30.)

State Rep. Alice H. Peisch, D-Wellesley, has a related amendment that would restore $3.6 million to help pay for transporting clients to the work programs.

“We’re really worried,” said Mr. Sarkissian. “Without this program they could be in situations that place them at risk. If parents have to work, they could end up needing residential services, which would cost more. In some cases, people would just be sitting at home and potentially doing nothing.”

Mr. Scibak, who has a doctorate in developmental disability and formerly worked with the mentally disabled, said members of the House will begin debating his amendment and about 900 others next week.

State Reps. Jennifer M. Callahan, D-Sutton, and John P. Fresolo, D-Worcester, are two early co-sponsors.

Mr. Scibak said people should not only contact their representatives, but also senators because they will have to include the funding in their budget version.

“You just can’t look at it all the time as financial implications. You have to think about what it means. In this case, what will they do?” he said.

“If I’ve got somebody who seems to be thriving … looking forward to this … doing well. If all of a sudden she stops going to work, will she understand? Will she feel it’s because of something she did? Does she get depressed … self injurious … start acting out? There are a whole host of things that can happen because of this,” he said.

Ms. Callahan said the program is a core safety net service the state has to continue to provide or the entire system will be thrown into chaos.

“Without these support services, we’re not going to see the success we’ve seen. Those people who in the past have been in an institution, the last thing we want to do is to remove these safety net services,” she said.