Thursday, August 20, 2009

Disability Budget Protest Brings Hundreds to Annapolis

By Laura Howell, Executive Director, Maryland Association for Community Services.

This week, in the sweltering August heat, hundreds of Marylanders, including people with developmental disabilities, aging caregivers, direct support staff, and advocates, converged on Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis with one message they chanted over and over – No More Cuts.

The fear of additional budget cuts to the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was palpable. Approximately 22,000 people receive community services from DDA, and 19,000 people are still waiting for assistance, many of them in crisis.

DDA services have been under-funded for years, with one in three providers operating with a negative operating margin. Developmental disability services were included in the first round of budget cuts earlier this summer. Further cuts could be catastrophic for some people who rely on those services for everything from basic help with eating, bathing, and dressing, to employment support, job coaching, and residential services.

Speakers at this week’s rally included two parents, from Howard and Baltimore Counties, who fear the impact potential budget cuts will have on the quality of life, safety and health of their children. Another speaker, just 19, starting his adult life in Prince George’s County, spoke of his fears of never being given the opportunity to live that life to the fullest. And a direct support staff from Montgomery County spoke of working two jobs, day and night, to support his family, while caring for people with disabilities.

The faces of the people who attended the rally, and the signs they brought with them, convey the message the best.