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Disability Community Stands Tall

Image of people with disabilities holding a red banner that reads "power to the people"
Throughout spring 2011, the disability community has organized against budget cuts.

Since Gov. Pat Quinn introduced his proposed FY 2012 budget in mid-February, the disability community has organized to stop them. The proposed budget includes cuts to services that support people with disabilities in their own homes. If the current cuts are approved, many people with disabilities may be unable to continue living in their own homes and may be forced into more costly institutions.

Two months after the original budget announcement, most of the proposed cuts remain in the budget.

“We understand there is a budget crisis, but legislators should look at where the money goes,” said Amber Smock, Access Living’s Director of Advocacy. “How much money gets funneled into institutional settings? How much goes into community living?” she said.

Throughout April and May, Access Living staff and consumers will meet with state legislators and senators, at their home offices in both Chicago and Springfield. Disability advocates hope to get their support for services that help people with disabilities live in the community.

Among other cuts, the current budget will reduce eligibility and service hours for Illinois’ Home Services Program, at a time when the number of people who need this program is on the rise. For low-income people with disabilities, the Home Services Program offers crucial supports. Under Illinois Department of Human Services, the Home Services program enables people with disabilities to receive in-home support through personal assistants. Personal assistants help with day-to-day tasks like bathing, dressing, cooking, eating and cleaning.

Gloria Nichols is a person with a disability who utilizes the Home Services Program. With the support of personal assistants, Nichols lives independently and participates in her community.

“Without a personal assistant,” Nichols said, “I wouldn’t be able to get up. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere or do anything.”

The proposed budget will limit Home Service eligibility to people with disabilities covered by Medicaid, and will put a cap on services per individual. For some, a decrease in services could be the difference between living on your own and being forced into a nursing home.

“The state is talking about re-balancing long term care spending,” Amber Smock said. “That means saving money by investing in community supports, while cutting back on spending for nursing facilities and institutions. Then why is the state limiting Home Services?”

In addition to Home Services reductions, the budget cuts the state’s Community Reintegration Program. Through the program, Access Living has helped more than 300 people with disabilities move out of institutions and into their own apartments. Centers for Independent Living has helped 1,932 people move out through the program, saving Illinois millions of dollars. If the program is cut, veterans with disabilities currently living in nursing homes will not be eligible for services.

“I had a chance to move forward,” said James Mathes, a veteran who moved out through the program. “Others in my position also deserve the chance to move forward.”

The budget will also include a statewide cut of 36 percent to all Centers for Independent Living in Illinois. There are 23 Centers for Independent Living like Access Living in Illinois, serving thousands of people with disabilities.

In an effort to restore funding for support services before a final budget is passed, Access Living is organizing legislative visits throughout April and May. During the week of April 18, advocates will schedule meetings with legislators in their local offices. Between April 25 and the end of May, groups of advocates will visit legislators at the state capital in Springfield at least once a week.

“Programs that support the independence of people with disabilities don’t just benefit the recipients,” said Smock. “They benefit everyone because the programs save the state money and strengthen our communities.”

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