Cuts Would Jeopardize Well-Being of Many Disabled Citizens


Posted on 03 July 2009

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ana_acton.jpgby Ana Acton
Executive Director
FREED Center for Independent Living

June 22, 2009, marked the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Olmstead decision. In its 1999 ruling, the high court affirmed the right of individuals with disabilities to live in their community of choice, and rejected the state of Georgia's appeal to enforce the institutionalization of individuals with disabilities. This single decision was a defining moment in the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities and aging individuals.

The "integration mandate" of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public agencies to provide services "in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." The Olmstead decision upheld that mandate, ruling that Georgia's department of human resources could not segregate two women with mental disabilities in a state psychiatric hospital - long after the agency's own treatment professionals had recommended their transfer to community care.

Ten years later, we recognize that California has made progress in providing safe and affordable community-based care for people with disabilities. This is largely a result of innovative programs such as In-Home Supportive Services, and organizations such as Independent Living Centers, which together provide a continuum of community-based services to enable persons with disabilities to live in the community.

The governor's May 2009 budget revision proposed cuts to In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) that would have caused 360,000, or 90 percent, of current participants to lose services. On June 16, 2009, the Senate Budget Committee rejected this and recommended cuts that would impact 10-15 percent of participants.

Whether 360,000 or 40,000 people are impacted, the consequences of these cuts are devastating to people of all ages with disabilities who rely on in-home services to ensure their independence. There are few substitutes for these services, therefore many individuals could be forced into institutions such as nursing homes.

The obvious impacts of such cuts include jeopardizing the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities, including seniors, many of whom have serious medical conditions. Another consequence is the compromising of an effective system (IHSS) that was painstakingly created to meet the needs of seniors and persons with disabilities and ensure their basic civil rights.

A less obvious, but very real consequence is the immediate negative impact to the California state budget. According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, the state pays $59,000 for every Medi-Cal nursing home resident per year. This is more costly than the maximum $12,300 the state pays annually for each In-Home Supportive Services participant. Cuts to the IHSS program also affect the employment and health benefits of personal care providers in Yuba and Sutter counties, in addition to the individuals with disabilities and/or seniors who are unable to work without the benefit of in-home services.

We recognize that the State of California is in desperate straits and it is time for every individual, organization, and business to make sacrifices and compromises to close the budget gap and contribute solutions to the problem. However, the budget cuts under consideration by the state Senate Budget Committee and Legislature come at too high a cost for the nearly half a million individuals with disabilities in California that rely on In-Home Supportive Services and other programs for their daily life activities.

The 10th anniversary of the Olmstead decision is a time to acknowledge all of the progress that has been made and move toward greater realization of the independence and full civil rights of all people with disabilities. Cutting the essential resources that allow people with disabilities to get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast and get on with the daily tasks of living is in direct opposition to the spirit and letter of the Supreme Court Olmstead decision.

Ana Acton is executive director for FREED Center for Independent Living. E-mail her at ana@freed.org or call 742-4474.