Economists are saying the recession is over. Looking at the headlines, it's hard to believe. For individuals with
disabilities, it seems like the worst is yet to come.
With Colorado facing a revenue shortfall of more than $600 million for the current year and an additional $1.5 billion
for the next fiscal year, further cuts to state programs are imminent.
Individuals with disabilities have already seen significant cuts to programs for people with developmental disabilities
and additional cuts totaling 5 percent from the 2008-2009 rates are predicted. Rental-assistance programs have been
frozen. Affordable housing is even further from the reach of individuals with disabilities.
The problem is individuals with disabilities were already coming from behind. The economic growth of the 1990s did not
reach most people with disabilities. By 2005, Cornell University's disability report showed people with disabilities
were about half as likely to have a job as their non-disabled peers, a discrepancy mainly attributed to attitudinal
barriers by employers.
When you add these barriers of attitude to the current economic situation, potential employees with disabilities get
the short end of the stick. Employers are increasingly more likely to hire a nondisabled person than a person with a
disability, and the jobs held by people with disabilities are often the first to disappear when layoffs occur.
In the 2008 Cornell Disability Statistics, employment for people with disabilities had fallen to 17.6 percent, compared
with 62.2 percent of the general population during the same time period, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Unfortunately, the national situation is reflected in the local reality.
Community Connections, the local organization for people with disabilities has seen a rate reduction of 2.5 percent and
faces an additional 2.5 percent rduction in July 2010. This is in addition to a state-mandated reduction in resources
and services that has increased the already astronomical waiting list for services. The Division for Vocational
Rehabilitation instituted a waiting list in October 2008. So, at the same time that jobs are harder to come by, many
people with disabilities also can no longer access support to find and become stable in a job.
Once the economy stabilizes, it will be a long road to recovery for both the Colorado budget and the people who depend
upon it. It will be crucial for all residents to stay educated about the state of the state's budget and the decisions
that will be made in the next few years.
Although all seems bleak, there are ways you can help. Keep up with the decisions of the Joint Budget Committee on the
Colorado General Assembly Web site. Learn about the TABOR Amendment and how it affects state revenue. Follow the budget
announcements as they are released from the Governor's office. Stay informed and involved in your local government.
For more information about the impacts of the economy on individuals with disabilities in Southwest Colorado, contact
Community Connections at 970-259-2464 or cci@cci-col orado.org.
Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.