The federal debate in Washington now is again dominated by political rancor and gamesmanship. But underneath the sound bites that grab headlines, Congress is poised to make a historic investment in support that will enable more people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to realize their American dreams: living and working independently, in communities they choose.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was created 31 years ago, and since then, persons with disabilities and those who care for them — families, caregivers, direct support professionals and community service providers that our organization represents — have urged Washington to provide the core resources needed to live up to the ADA’s ideals.
Community-based services make it possible for people with disabilities to live and work in their communities as independently as possible. And discussions in Washington on the reconciliation package include as significant of an investment in these home-based and community-based services as we have ever seen. We must get it right.
Earlier this year, our organization led a push at the state Capitol for more state funding for disability services and programs. Lawmakers and Gov. Pritzker responded with a critical $170 million funding infusion that will begin Jan. 1. We will be able to meet many more needs of those who now can go without because our allies in Springfield recognized we must do better.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer than ever our challenges ahead.
New data from ANCOR, the national association representing community providers of disability services, finds 77 percent of organizations are turning away new referrals for care. Our long-running workforce shortages have worsened: in Illinois alone, 46 percent of providers have consolidated group homes where adults with disabilities reside, and 35 percent have closed group homes altogether.
As IARF president and CEO, I hear every day from our service provider members about their challenges in hiring and keeping staff. Because our funding is from Medicaid, we cannot simply raise wages to compete with fast-food or retail employers. We have many clients who need 24/7, round-the-clock care — we cannot simply close our doors at the end of the workday or cut back on shifts.
We see federal relief on the horizon that is long overdue. We cannot afford for it to become another victim of a D.C. political power play.
The reconciliation package currently being discussed in Congress originally included $400 billion in funding for the Medicaid-supported Home and Community Based Services program. Deep cuts to that number have been proposed, and its future is now unclear.
It’s time for our leaders in Congress to step up and stand with our disability services community. We call on the suburban Democrats and Republicans and the entire Illinois congressional delegation to support the full $400 billion for disability funding as included in the original reconciliation package. Without this action, our community providers will face financial devastation, and the lives of people with disabilities who have waited so long for help will be pushed aside yet again. It’s time to do better for those who really deserve it.
• Josh Evans is president and CEO of Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities in Springfield.
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October 18, 2021 at 07:02AM