Monday, March 17, 2003

More on Developmentally Disabled Budget Cuts

I got some impassioned emails from parents, therapists, and others who know first hand what the GOP legislative budget will do to funding for developmental disabilities in response to last week's column. I hope it makes for a powerful column this week as well. To his great credit, Bob Schuster of the libertarian-and-for-sale Tribune is incredibly impassioned about this issue.

The Budget Battle

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 16, 2003

It’s time for another one of those dry-as-dust discussions of the state budget. Let’s hear from some experts: Parents and teachers of kids with disabilities, those folks right in the cross-hairs of the GOP legislative leaders’ budget plans.

Justin, the father of a 7-month-old with Down syndrome, wrote me about his fight to keep services for his son -- services that the GOP budget would take away. Karen, a pediatric speech-language pathologist, wrote that all but one of the children she now helps would be dropped from therapy. Either their family is “too rich” (which the GOP defines for these purposes as about $40,000 per year), or the new co-payment requirement would be an impossible burden.

Kortney, a mother of twin girls with disabilities, has to oppose the GOP budget. She probably can’t understand why accounting projections or ideology or a new round of tax cuts for special, favored businesses matters more to some legislative leaders than do her daughters. Kathy, an occupational therapy practitioner in the East Valley, works with families with children who need these services but won’t be able to get them without state help.

John has a 5-year-old autistic son who is making “fantastic strides forward” -- but the GOP budget will make his family choose among bankruptcy, divorce, moving out of state, or throwing away his son’s progress.

I also talked with Steve Vitali, executive director of Devereux Arizona, on whose board I serve. Devereux had to drop out of the state’s Healthy Families program, a pioneering early intervention program that provided pre-natal and early childhood assistance to pregnant women identified by hospitals or social workers as at-risk for premature birth or difficulty in early childhood. The program exists, but Devereux had to quit participating, because the state would pay only 80 percent of the costs -- and Devereux hasn’t been able to raise enough private funds to cover the shortfall.

The GOP fiscal wizards responsible for these direct, inevitable, and immediate consequences to real people try to change the subject. “We’re not cutting the budget,” they claim. “We’re just not increasing spending as much as originally projected. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

But that dodge makes no sense unless these “numbers matter more than people” Republicans can manage to stop Arizona’s population from growing, stop inflation, and prevent anyone already here from needing additional services. If you don’t increase spending along with population growth, inflation, and demand (remember hearing about the huge, unexplained increase in autism?) then families like Justin’s, Kortney’s, and John’s get screwed.

Unless these GOP budget geniuses managed to wall off Arizona from the rest of the world, keep families from having more children than allowed in legislative budget projections, and put the state on its own non-inflating currency, their arguments about how they’re really not cutting spending is nothing but a big lie.

I find it incredibly tedious when these right-wingers complain about “compassion fatigue” or not being able to do everything. We somehow will create a democratic Iraq, but can’t afford to help autistic kids here in Arizona?

I also heard from Caleb’s dad. Caleb is a 6-month-old with Down syndrome. Caleb’s dad wrote, “When Caleb is old enough, I plan on letting him know who spoke up for him when he couldn’t.”

I’m not nearly as nice as Caleb’s dad. I plan on shouting out loud and long who in the Arizona Legislature (and their enablers in the Phoenix Chamber and other “just cut spending” ideologues) turned their backs and supported policies that will harm Caleb and these other kids.

“Fast Eddie” Farnsworth and the other GOP legislative leaders all claim to be “pro-life.” From Caleb’s perspective, it sure doesn’t look that way.

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