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Governor, help our most vulnerable Californians

By Chris Holden

In California, there are over 330,000 children, men and women living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and severe seizure disorders. They are members of our own families and the families of our friends and neighbors. Though just a few decades ago such a diagnosis could have led to life-long institutionalization, today people with these challenges work in local businesses, live in apartments next door, shop at local merchants, volunteer alongside us at food pantries and pet shelters, sing in their school choirs, attend local schools and, yes, vote in local elections.

No, there have not been miracle cures for these disabilities. Rather, we have among us miracle workers in the form of local men and women who provide the structure, support, coaching and mentoring that empower the people they serve to achieve lives of meaning and purpose. These miracle workers are employed by local community- based organizations that receive their funding from the state. These groups have transformed California’s system of support for its most vulnerable residents, and we should be proud of this successful public policy.

But we cannot feel proud of the way we have let support for these community organizations and the people they employ slip behind in the past 20 years. Because the law governing California’s funding of these services does not contain any automatic links to cost-of-living increases or any other means for routinely adjusting what we pay our service provider partners, their reimbursements remain exactly the same, year after year, unless the governor proposes an increase or approves a proposed adjustment to the budget by the Legislature. These increases have been all but nonexistent in the past 20 years.

Of course, each time California’s economy dips, these services are on the chopping block, but when our economy improves, they remain at the end of the line for increases.

Funding that is frozen in time means wages for employees are frozen in time. Without hope for raises, these wonderful workers must leave to find higher-paying work to provide for their own families. Each time someone leaves, the people she or he has been serving experience a loss and a setback in their lives. When they leave our service providers, they leave their clients without the support and structure they need to be safe and successful.

A recent study documented that the turnover of staff is causing providers throughout the state to curtail or even close their program services.

We now have reached the point where the rates we pay these organizations does not even cover minimum wage costs for their workforce. When we fail to fund these services, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities lose access to necessary services, are placed on waiting lists and are deprived of their right to participate fully in society.

For the past three years, my office has worked hard along with my colleagues to craft solutions to this serious problem. Unfortunately, the previous administration, tempered by the threat of a future recession, would not consider either legislative or substantial budget relief for this system.

This year, along with Assembly member Jim Frazier and Sen. Henry Stern, I introduced a budget request calling for an 8% funding increase for all services provided through the Department of Developmental Services. Unfortunately, the governor’s response was to offer a package with half the needed funding and leaving more than 50% of all the services people use with no additional support at all.

Even this half measure contained a sunset date reducing funding back down to current levels within two years. But the governor still has an opportunity to do the right thing. The proposal for an 8% increase is still under consideration in the final budget negotiations now taking place in Sacramento. I urge the governor and all members of the Budget Conference Committee to support the 8% across-the-board rate increase for service providers. Let us support the people that are making miracles happen and our most vulnerable citizens. Let us be proud of how we respect and value the lives of all Californians.

Chris Holden represents the 41st Assembly District.

Juan Perez shows Destry Walker how to package a product for shipping. Walker works in the workshop at New Horizons in North Hills. The program for developmentally disabled adults is facing a stagnant budget.

STAFF FILE PHOTO

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