There is something about a new year that feels like a new beginning. Perhaps this is why people tend to make resolutions, set goals and plan for the future at the New Year.
In keeping with the New Year spirit, I would like to offer the following wish list for people with developmental disabilities in 2014:
1. End the wait list! Currently in the state of Colorado, 1,955 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are waiting for 24-hour residential services. Another 244 are waiting for Supported Living Services to help them live independently in the community or with their families. The Family Support Program, which is designed to help give families caring for family members with intellectual disabilities the supports they need in order to avoid out-of-home placements, currently has a waiting list of 6,151 people.
Some people have been on one or more of these waiting lists for more than 10 years.
2014 could be the year that we significantly reduce these waits – if not eliminate some altogether. The current legislative Joint Budget Committee has demonstrated an interest in addressing the problem of the waiting lists.
The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (The department overseeing the Medicaid programs funding most of these programs) has submitted a budget proposal this year that would entirely eliminate the Supported Living Services waiting list in fiscal year 2015.
The same proposal would return the funding for the Family Support program to the levels before the economic downturn. In 2009, the Family Support Program was reduced by 64 percent because of reduced tax revenues in the state.
The budget request only puts a dent in the waiting list for residential services. We can keep wishing, though!
2. More jobs for people with disabilities. Community job placement is a high priority for the Colorado Division for Developmental Disabilities (DDD). One of the outcome measurements DDD reports each month reflects the percentage of individuals who currently receive Supported Employment out of all the individuals who receive day-programming supports. The goal is 13 percent. For the last year, our state has hovered around 9 percent.
That means up to 91 percent of people with intellectual disabilities in the state of Colorado are either unemployed or are employed in a “work crew” with other people with intellectual disabilities. While some people with intellectual disabilities are employed without supports and are not captured by the statistics, this tends to be a small segment of the population. If we had an unemployment rate of upwards of 90 percent across this country, there would be revolution. Why should it be different for people with disabilities?
3. People with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families will all live healthy and fulfilling lives. At Community Connections, we envision a life that is meaningful with good health and family and friends around us. That is a goal I wish for everyone in 2014.
Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.