Developmental Disabilities Advocates Call for Increased State Funding

Social workers, service providers and individuals with developmental disabilities gathered in San Francisco today to urge State Assemblyman Mark Leno to fight for an increase of roughly $500 million for developmental disability services in Governor Jerry Brown’s state budget.

Dozens of people advocating for adequate rates for developmental disability service providers gathered at Civic Center Plaza just outside Leno’s office this afternoon and called on him to help remove funding cuts to disability services made during the recession in 2008 and grant a 10 percent increase to service providers.

After meeting with developmental disability advocates today, Leno said he is concerned about the lack of funding for developmental disability services, and that both Democratic and Republican members of the state legislature have expressed their concern as well.

Leno said that he will be fighting for increased funding for developmental disability services, but that it is “far too early in the budget process to know what will become of it.”

He said that he understands that a 10 percent increase is needed to bolster the salaries of social workers and he said that if that full increase cannot be brought about in one year, there needs to be a conversation about making a timeline for the increase.

“The need is great throughout the state especially in places where deep cuts were made,” Leno said.

In addition, Leno noted that the roughly $2.2 billion provided by the federal government is threatened if the state doesn’t help reduce caseworkers’ burdens and provide adequate case management.

Leno said the state is benefiting from a recovering economy and he hopes the legislature will be able to change Gov. Brown’s budget, but admits that Brown has the power to veto those changes.

Linda Byrd, a service provider at Precious Heritage, said social workers have been working at very low rates and that it has been difficult to hire and retain qualified and capable people.

She said many talented social workers are unable to pay their bills on the salaries they receive and quickly leave their positions.

Those social workers who do stay have huge case loads, Byrd said.

Diana Conti, the chief executive officer of Parca, a non-profit organization which, through financial support from the State of California’s Golden Gate Resource Center and others, provides residential programs as well as in-home care and other services for those with development disabilities agreed with Byrd, saying that social workers paid by the state have not received a wage increase in 16 years.

“What is happening now is a shame,” Conti said.

She said the state needs to invest in people and can start by restoring cuts that were made during the recession in 2008.

Conti said organizations such as Parca are being asked to fundraise the difference, which she said is “as absurd as making Caltrans fundraise to build a new highway.”

She said the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, known as the Lanterman Act, which required the state to accept the responsibility for Californians with developmental disabilities, protects many individuals but does not have a dedicated funding stream attached to it.

Byrd said that if the state decides not to invest in those services, not only are they hurting their most vulnerable population, but it will also cost the state more in the future.

She said funding in-home support services for severely disabled individuals is much more cost effective than institutionalizing people.

Ron Fell, the chairman of the board of directors of Golden Gate Regional Center, which receives money from the state’s Department of Developmental Services and distributes it to help roughly 8,200 people with developmental disabilities in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties, said California’s support for developmentally disabled people used to be the envy of the nation, but today he said, “at the rate it’s going, it’s not going to survive.”

Fell said that in California, roughly 282,000 people receive developmental disability services from the state and that each year the number increases, but that in order for those people to get the support they need while being treated with dignity, there needs to be a larger investment of state funds.

Jim Shorter, the executive director of the Golden Gate Regional Center, met with Leno today to describe the pressing need for funding. Shorter said Leno expressed optimism about attaining that 10 percent increase.

Shorter said that while a 10 percent increase to the system would be a great start, the system is actually about 45 to 55 percent underfunded.

He said in order to hire employees that can be depended on to care for and assist those with developmental disabilities, they should have have experience and degrees in social work.

Shorter said that as a result of the budget cuts and lack of needed funding, there is a huge turnover in social workers and that harms the developmentally disabled that deserve services.

Emily Feldmann, a 33-year-old resident of Terra Linda, a community in San Rafael, attended the rally today and spoke out in support of increased funding for programs that help her and others with developmental disabilities thrive.

Feldmann said that if “we didn’t have any programs we would be living on the streets or living with out parents and not feeling strong and independent.”

She said the programs that help people live normal and independent lives, despite their disabilities, are at risk.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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