As a social worker, I serve Central Virginia residents who have children with Intellectual disabilities (formerly called Mental Retardation). In this capacity, I sometimes get calls from families who are thinking about moving to Virginia. They want to know what State funded services and support, such as daytime activities, group homes, or respite, might be available for their disabled children. In the past, while I could rarely promise immediate access to such services, I could at least tell them about getting on waiting lists for them and what their wait times might be. This year, I can’t offer even this because in the proposed budget of the General Assembly, the 40 Community Service Boards in Virginia will not be getting any money for people on the waiting list.
As if that weren’t bad enough, we were also informed that the reimbursement rate for services – what Medicaid pays for them– will probably be cut by 5%.This is a huge cut for the agencies providing group home and day support services, and may force some of these centers to close. The bottom line? In Virginia, it may mean an increase in the populations of the training centers (also called institutions) because there will be nowhere else for people to go. I have been in this field for 20 years. I have seen the positive changes that adequate funding can provide: safe places to live, jobs that are meaningful, recreation and leisure supports, transportation, and other opportunities that those of us without disabilities take for granted. I have also seen the devastation to families and individuals when there are no resources because there was no money allocated in the state budget to extend services to more people.
I understand that this year the Virginia Legislature faced a huge budget deficit and cuts had to be made. I am not upset because I haven’t had a raise in 5 years or because I’m expected to do more work. I am upset because there are so many families who desperately need services for their adult children with Intellectual Disability and won’t get them. I am also embarrassed by Virginia’s rating in an annual report that ranks states on the funding provided to people with developmental disabilities – number 41 out of the 50 states. These cuts will, in all likelihood, move Virginia even further down on this scale, to 45 or 46.
How do I tell THE 200 PLUS families in this area alone who are already patiently waiting for state services that the reality is that their child may have to go live in an institution because there is no money to pay for a group home? How do I tell the single mother of a son with Down syndrome that when he graduates from special education, that he will not be going to a daytime activity center, which means she must quit her job because he can’t be left unsupervised during her work hours?
I recently heard that Virginia was changing its slogan from “Virginia is for Lovers” to “Virginia is for Families.” This statement needs to be amended to make it clear that for those with disabled children, Virginia is not for your family.
-- Ruth Ewers is a social worker and writer living in Nelson County.
- ▼ April (5)