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Budget cuts leave the developmentally disabled behind

Posted by Marjorie Pritchard  October 19, 2011 01:55 PM

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By Jay Ruderman

The federal budget will be cut dramatically in the years ahead and the impact that these cuts will have on people in society who need our help should concern all of us. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are particularly at risk, as public programs have barely kept pace with the needs of this population over the last decade and hard-won progress can easily be erased.

While the level of support varies greatly based on the disability, people with disabilities need some support to share and thrive in the human experience. Sometimes that support is minimal, such as the training and coaching needed for employment, and other times it is a more intense, even round the clock, level of care.

In Texas, the Department of Aging and Disability Services was directed to find $31 million in savings provided to people enrolled in four state disability programs. The programs, designed to keep people with profound disabilities out of nursing homes and institutions, enroll nearly 48,000 people. While the delivery of basics such as nursing care and meal delivery are not expected to be affected, some people will lose their physical and speech therapy and other like services, and could be forced to be placed in much more expensive institutional settings.

Now, that’s Texas responding to its own budget problems. What will happen nationally when the federal government cuts back on its funding to all 50 states? The federal debt reduction law directs over a trillion dollars in cuts.

Some would say that care for people with disabilities is not the government’s responsibility, that it is up to the family, or the church, or a “village” of people to help out. In my mind, private funding and the goodness of neighbors are important, but they will never replace public funding for people with developmental disabilities.

Unlike some government programs that can be held off for another day – road widening, purchasing new equipment, building a municipal building – for this population, there is no time when services can be postponed.

For many with disabilities, a moderate amount of services and supports can translate into employment opportunities and independence. Rather than relying on a budget-cutting government to go it alone, foundations and other types of organizations can provide some innovative and cost-saving options.

In one example of private involvement, our foundation funded a program that provides young adults with disabilities customized training, placement and ongoing support services. In this program, Jewish Vocational Services is working to place individuals in jobs with Hebrew Senior Life. In a change from the standard approach, we saw that we had to develop the right kind of training and support for available jobs, not the reverse of training in certain skills and hoping that the right kind of job becomes available. It will give individuals their first paycheck ever and it is a testament to what partnerships between the philanthropic sector, nonprofit world, and advocacy community can achieve.

As private organizations work to integrate people with developmental disabilities into daily life, with skills appropriate for the job at hand, the public will see hard-working people making a difference. Some employers that already have made that commitment have seen their relatively small investment repaid in spades, with loyal and dependable workers who in many cases outpace those employees without disabilities. It is truly a win-win-win: Employers get good workers, individuals achieve independence and a new measure of confidence, and the government, over time, sees more tax revenue and less dependence on disability benefits.

Government needs to give a little to get a lot. Yes, we need to be mindful of our nation’s debt. And yes, we must make hard choices on how we spend our money. But, when it comes to the developmentally disabled, we, as a society, can’t afford to turn our backs. And the people most challenged can’t afford to be left behind. Working together, with a common purpose and a sensible approach, we can make a difference.

Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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