People with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve, need state support

Executive Director Darla Benson recently wrote an article on what more the state needs to do to help our clients and thousands of other people with intellectual and developmental 

The Bakersfield Californian

Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016 11:58 AM

By Darla Benson

Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016 11:58 AM

I suppose we should be grateful that Gov. Jerry Brown included some additional funding for programs for California’s thousands of citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities in his recently proposed 2016 state budget. So I will resist the temptation to view the governor’s spending plan through a glass-is-half-empty prism and grouse that programs should have received more support.

I am also realistic in recognizing that this is just the opening salvo in a months-long battle between the governor, legislators and special interest groups over the use of increased state revenues to fund existing programs and start new ones.

Over the din of criticism the governor already has received about his proposed spending plan is Brown’s prudent warning that another “Great Recession” may be just around the corner. State government must prepare for the bust times by resisting spending in the boom times.

But we implore the governor and legislators to consider California’s individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as a high priority as they do their “political dance” in Sacramento; as they forge a final state budget in the months ahead.

California’s 290,500 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities rely on state-funded programs for survival and to develop skills that may help them live as independently as possible. The long-established state Lanterman Developmental Services Act guarantees these people and their families necessary services and support.

California provides services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in two ways:

• The vast majority resides with their families or in community facilities, and receives state-funded services from “vendors,” such as the New Advances for People with Disabilities, or NAPD, and Bakersfield’s BARC. These vendors are coordinated by 21 non-profit regional centers, including the Kern Regional Center.

• A small number of individuals reside in three state-operated developmental centers, including one in Porterville, and one state-operated community facility. Proposals are underway to close these facilities, transferring residents and revenues to local programs.

I’m not about to bog this discussion down with confusing state revenue projections, tax reform schemes and political maneuvering. Rather, a recent report by the Association of Regional Center Agencies summarizes the situation best: The system for helping California’s people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is “on the brink of collapse.”

Funding for state programs took a big hit during the 2009 Great Recession. And going back a decade more, the state’s reimbursement rate to vendors has failed to keep pace with increasing costs and the expanding need for services.

As a result, the number of vendors available to provide services to California’s individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities has drastically declined. In 2010, there were more than 39,000 vendors; today there are less than 29,000. Without an infusion of state funding, there will be even fewer vendors tomorrow.

Authors of the report, “On the Brink of Collapse,” noted that California spends the least in the nation on people with developmental disabilities, but has some of the highest caseload ratios in the country. Among the recent losses reported were 435 beds due to program shutdowns and 1,300 day programs and work option cuts.

Alarmed by this rapid decline, Bakersfield Assemblywoman Shannon Grove noted in December that the system is “in a critical crisis stage.”

And the funding problem could worsen if the services provided by California to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities fall below federal standards. To receive federal funds for programs, minimum criteria must be met.

We understand Brown’s call for spending restraint. If another recession were to hit in a year or two, we could be thrown back into the budget hole Brown inherited when he took office four years ago. Again we would be implementing savage service cuts that would affect all Californians, especially the most vulnerable among us – people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But as we move forward to balance the need to prudently reserve state tax dollars to hedge against a future rainy day with the desire to spend on existing and new programs, we must realize that for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities – people who constantly struggle just to maintain a fraction of the quality of life most of us take for granted -- every day is a “rainy day.”

Darla Benson is the executive director of New Advances for People with Disabilities in Bakersfield. For more information, go to www.napd-bak.org