Changes to disabilities waiver could devastate workforce

Date: Friday, August 3, 2012


Kathleen Cates

On October 1, if nothing is done to prevent it, proposed changes to
the developmental disabilities waiver will go into effect in New Mexico.

These proposed changes and cuts to the DD waiver will significantly
and negatively impact the many individuals with disabilities in our
community who have made tremendous strides in reaching their full
potential through programs that have helped them enhance their quality
of life and enabled them to become active, productive members of the
community and workforce.

For months, controversy surrounding these proposed cuts to the DD
waiver has spurred health care providers and consumers to voice concern
and outrage about the negative impact these cuts will have on a
vulnerable population.

Through public forums and public comments, those of us concerned
about the issue have worked diligently to try to stop these changes from
going into effect on October 1. Final opportunities to voice opposition
to these proposed DD waiver changes are coming in August. A public
hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. August 6 at the Toney Anaya Building, 2550 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe.

Proposed changes to the DD waiver will have a far-reaching effect
that will extend not only to the many families in our area caring for
those with disabilities, but also will impact our entire community and
local workforce. Families forced to deal with reduced services and cuts
in therapy for their children will be searching for ways to continue to
help their loved ones thrive through the specialized care that has
assisted so many disabled individuals throughout New Mexico. While
the overall disability insurance process shouldn’t be affected too much,
the level of care for disabled individuals may be harmed.

Cuts to the DD waiver, and a reduction in services for their
children, will leave many of today’s working parents scrambling to find
the funding and time to supplement this reduction in state services,
while still trying desperately to balance the daily demands of caring
for a family member with a disability and holding down their jobs in
today’s tumultuous economy.

Proposed cuts to the DD waiver will impact our local workforce in
other ways as well. We have made tremendous strides in helping the
disabled find meaningful, productive jobs within our community, but cuts
to the waiver could change all of the progress made in recent years.

Providers and consumers in the state fear that with the proposed cuts
to the DD waiver, no one will provide employment services for the
disabled where they can earn good pay and gain that all-important sense
of independence and accomplishment. This will mean individuals with
disabilities will only be able to earn money in sheltered workshops at
subminimum wages, rather than being trained for and working in the many
jobs within our community where people with disabilities can be found

To see what impact these cuts might have on our community, we can
take a look at what has happened in Oregon — and how that state is still
in turmoil surrounding cuts in services for those with disabilities.

Oregon did go through with its proposed cuts, leaving disabled
individuals with only one employment source. The Justice Department has
threatened to sue the state of Oregon for breaking the federal ADA law
of accessibility and choice.

According to a nine-month investigation, the Justice Department found
that “the majority of Oregon’s workers who are intellectually or
developmentally disabled are employed in highly repetitive, manual
tasks, such as folding, sorting and bagging in shared spaces occupied
only by other persons with disabilities” in settings that are
“institutional in nature.”

This is a far cry from the many people with disabilities in our
community who are working and thriving while holding down good-paying
jobs at businesses throughout the region. Given appropriate support, our
disabled individuals are able to hold good-paying jobs, contribute
taxes and participate in their community. The proposed New Mexico cuts
will potentially remove support for these individuals and decrease
placement fees by 75 percent.

Changes to the DD waiver call for disability employment networks to
bill for current services for a maximum amount of $144 per month, which
will not cover even a quarter of the costs. Under the proposed cuts, the
disability employment networks will not be able to provide these
services. This will create a situation similar to the one Oregon faces.

Cuts to the DD waiver can and will be devastating, not only to those
with disabilities, but also to their families struggling to provide the
best level of care. These cuts will impact our local workforce for
decades to come.

Let’s not allow what’s happening in Oregon to happen in New Mexico.
July 26 was the 22nd anniversary of the ADA, and we still need a strong
voice to ensure accessibility and integration. Let’s continue to
advocate for those with disabilities in our community, providing a
strong, united voice to support some of our most vulnerable citizens.

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