March is National Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Month and this year it comes in the midst of an ongoing debate about health care reform and budget challenges. One in 62 Americans has an intellectual disability, and awareness of issues affecting millions of citizens can inform the direction of national and state discussions and create a win-win-win outcome for states, communities, and people with disabilities.
The majority of funding for organizations that provide services to people with intellectual disabilities comes through Medicaid. At Mosaic, we serve approximately 3,500 people and more than 90 percent of our funding is Medicaid dollars. When facing budget challenges, many states see this as an area to cut, yet that is a short-sighted choice. We believe that people with intellectual disabilities have the right to live a quality life, receive individualized services, find employment options, and socialize with family and friends in or near their home communities. When this happens, the natural support systems that many of us take for granted become an integral part of life for people with disabilities. As those natural systems grow, the reliance upon only paid supports can diminish – a win for people with disabilities and for state budgets.
It is also a win for communities. The old model of segregating people with intellectual disabilities in large institutions away from loved ones caused disruption of the family and community ties that strengthen the fabric of our society. It also was more expensive. The new model of community inclusion strengthens those ties and affirms the value of every individual while saving taxpayer money. Our schools, our churches, our places of businesses, are all better when they are inclusive and welcoming.
The State of Colorado is facing unprecedented funding cuts to services for people with intellectual disabilities. In October 2009, organizations that provide these services and receive government funding received a 2.5 percent cut and an additional 2 percent cut is anticipated in July. These cuts present a challenge to provide the same level of services and our organization has eliminated some services to maintain quality.
This is an important discussion to have now. Soon we will see a dramatic increase in the number of people with intellectual disabilities needing services as aging family caregivers find they can no longer provide the support their children need. In addition, in almost every state there are long lists of people seeking services who must wait until the state provides funding. It is essential that we commit to providing effective, community-based services that strengthen family and social ties, while making the most efficient use of taxpayer money.
Unfortunately today many people with disabilities live a life where the only people with whom they have daily contact are paid to be there to provide care. They face a life of seclusion, isolation and loneliness. But it doesn’t have to be that way. They can and should enjoy a full life in their communities whenever possible, experiencing the same simple pleasures we do every day.
Organizations providing community-based support services are working to change the status quo by offering full participation in the life of communities across the country. We are ready to step forward and show how to create a win-win-win outcome. Let’s use this month to start discussions and work on solutions that will promote social justice, save tax dollars and make a positive difference in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities and the communities that we call home.