Los Angeles Times Editorial Board | Developmental Services Network

By The Los Angeles News Group Editorial Board, LA Daily News –
POSTED: 03/20/15, 1:45 PM PDT

California’s community of individuals with developmental disabilities is in crisis, but few outside that community are aware of it. That needs to change, and fast, before things get even worse.

Support for the state’s roughly 280,000 developmentally disabled individuals has declined to such a state that some are no longer receiving levels of service that are mandated federally, much less what a civilized society owes its most vulnerable members. The decline is wrenching not only for those individuals, but for their loved ones and those who help care for them and support them.

The problem is a lack of money – as it is in so many areas. But this is different in both quality and degree from, say, public employees wanting a raise.

Generally this editorial board has been supportive of Gov. Jerry Brown’s frugality, which has been and is key to getting California on a sustainable fiscal footing.

But services for the disabled have been declining since the 1990s, long before the Great Recession. Then, during that downturn, funding was slashed by more than $1 billion.

State reimbursement rates for services have barely budged in two decades, while costs to provide services have grown steadily. Case loads have shot up for the state’s 21 regional centers that are responsible for managing the services. The nonprofits that are supposed to provide services like skills development and job training have been reduced largely to caretaking, because they can’t hire and retain qualified professionals when they cab’t pay more than minimum wage.

These are the nonprofit centers in our own towns, like Tierra del Sol in Van Nuys, Arts & Services for Disabled in Long Beach, or OPARC in Montclair.

More important, we’re talking about our most vulnerable fellow citizens – those whose quality of life is dependent on state funding to a large degree. They cannot help themselves when services fall short; they cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

By no means are they unable to contribute to our society and even our economy. In fact, the Los Angeles Daily News employs two individuals with developmental disabilities who are members of the employee team and contribute to the news organization’s success.

But those sorts of good outcomes are threatened by the underfunding crisis in these programs. A report prepared by the Association of Regional Center Agencies (ARCA) is bluntly titled “On the Brink of Collapse: The Consequences of Underfunding California’s Developmental Services System.”

In that report ARCA urges the governor and Legislature to adopt the Lanterman Coalitions’ three-pronged approach to rebuilding the state’s community-based service system for those with developmental disabilities:

  1. An immediate (and desperately needed) 10 percent boost in funding per person served to halt the decline. That’s about $517 million, of which $357 million would come from the state general fund, garnering $160 million in matching federal funds. That’s serious money, but would amount to rounding error in, for example, the state’s $65.7 billion budget for K-12 education.
  1. Reform of funding for service rates and regional center operations to make them adequate and sustainable.
  1. Annual 5 percent increases until those funding reform strategies are implemented.

These three steps are meant to counteract statistics like these:

— Since mid-2011, 435 residential homes for adults with developmental disabilities have closed, representing a loss of nearly 2,300 beds.

— In the same period, 57 day and work programs closed their doors, affecting 1,200 people.

— And 15 supported employment programs ended, a loss of 176 opportunities to work in community settings.

It goes beyond the numbers. Anecdotally, conflicts have grown as more and more family members are infuriated by inadequate services and turnover among staff which simply can’t be helped by service centers.

The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, passed in 1969, established that Californians with developmental disabilities (and their families) have a right to get the services and support they need to reach their full potential and to live as independently as possible. It made California a leader – a position long surrendered as our per-person outlay has fallen below that of most other states.

It’s time to change that. Advocates such as Eileen Richey of ARCA and Tony Anderson of the Lanterman Coalition made the case eloquently and dramatically at a state Senate subcommittee hearing on March 12. Their cause received a decidedly sympathetic hearing from Sens. Holly Mitchell, Jeff Stone and Bill Monning; now those senators need to spread the word among their fellow legislators and to the Brown administration to get that 10 percent funding hike incorporated in the governor’s May budget revision.

We plan to support that effort in an occasional series of editorials exploring this topic further. If you agree that individuals with developmental disabilities need more state support, let your local legislators and the governor’s office know about it.

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