My home state, Virginia, has a rotten record of providing services to people with disabilities. Virginia is consistently ranked between 40th and 47th out of 50 (states) on services. So, I shouldn’t be surprised by the latest state budget recommendations. But I am. I didn’t think things could get a lot worse, but I was wrong.
I understand that state budgets have been hit hard during this economic downturn. I’m a state employee and I’ve seen the cutbacks, the extra jobs we all have to take on, and the layoffs. Virginia is required by its constitution to have a balanced budget, i.e. the state cannot act like the Federal government and just go deeper and deeper into debt. So as we approach this next budget cycle, the cuts which in the past have been deep, are going right to the bone. Unfortunately, the proposals will hit people with disabilities the hardest.
Here are some examples of the proposals:
- Eliminate 200 Mental Retardation waiver slots
- Reduce the number of hours allowed for respite care from 720 annually to 240 annually
- Postpone mandated increases in annual waiver slots
- Freeze enrollment in the 5 waivers
- Reduce provider rates for waiver services by 5%
- Reduce rates and prior authorization for intensive in-home services
- Limit annual visits for physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Currently in Virginia, 5,115 individuals are waiting on the Mental Retardation Waiting List. Ashley has been waiting 5 years on the Developmental Disabilities list, and she is still in spot 329. The waiting lists will continue to grow and people who need services to become productive members of society will languish in sub-standard care. The providers, usually personal care aides, are already paid an extremely low rate. That is why families have a hard time finding and keeping good aides. And respite – let me tell you how I use my respite:
720 hours a year works out to about 13 hours a weekend, which is the way I have chosen to use mine. 2-3 hours each weekend is spent grocery shopping. Another hour is spent waiting at the pharmacy. Car maintenance consumes another 3 hours (the total for the year divided by the number of weekends). Home and yard maintenance takes another 2 hours. Then there are the errands for my other children – haircuts, school shopping tasks, clothes shopping, etc). Those will take another 2 hours. Then, because I am a state employee and our resources have been cut so drastically, I always have at least 50 hours of work to accomplish in a 40 hour work week. On the weekends, I use my respite time to do some of my work. – about another 2 hours. And, if there is anytime at all left, I treat myself to a few minutes at Starbucks.
I can make it work with 13 hours a weekend of respite. I absolutely cannot make it work if those hours are reduced to 5 for the weekend.
But here’s the icing on the cake. At the same time as this proposed dismantling of community-based supports, the current administration is continuing plans to rebuild a NEW, 75-bed, state-operated institution in Chesapeake, VA.
This all makes me sick to my stomach. Virginia's state motto is "Virginia is for Lovers." I would suggest we add "except for people with disabilities" to the end of that statement.