GateHouse News Service
Posted Mar 03, 2010 @ 10:00 AM
Marshfield —

To the Editor:

I’m not sure you’ve noticed, but we are on the verge of appropriating homelessness for persons with developmental disabilities here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the state budget process! If you didn’t notice, don’t feel bad; the message was delivered in a way that makes it difficult to recognize. Budget figures have a way of obscuring humanity, and there are no “decoder rings” available to the general public to help interpret those cold numbers.

When Gov. Deval Patrick released his plan for fiscal 2011 a few weeks ago, it included cuts in excess of $22 million from the residential services line of the Department of Developmental Services’ (formerly the Department of Mental Retardation) budget. On the surface, this may look like a small number to a recession-weary populace that has gotten used to hearing budget figures being bandied about in the billions and trillions of dollars (usually when talking about deficits). Frankly, it probably looked like a small number to the budget people in the governor’s office, too.

Trust me when I tell you, though, that this is actually a huge number. The residential services line of the DDS budget represents homes for people with developmental disabilities. These are people who are unable to care for themselves and who have no real options when it comes to living situations. Many of these individuals once lived in the institutions we, as a country, vowed to close back in the 1970s and 1980s. Sadly, those institutions remain open today. This dual system is draining exorbitant amounts of ever-more-limited resources from community programs, which have demonstrated the ability to successfully serve the exact same populations, for less money, over the past 30 years.

The Association for Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) and the Arc of Massachusetts estimate that these cuts will result in 300 adults with developmental disabilities losing their homes! For most, these will be homes they have been part of for many years. Where will they go? The governor’s budget does not provide any direction in this regard.
The state institutions are not an option, as they cost more than community-based programs. In addition, the courts have been very clear over the past 30 years that large institutions are not humane or appropriate settings for persons with developmental disabilities.
There are no less expensive “step-down” programs for these individuals. Decades of level funding or budget cuts forced such moves to occur years ago.

Service providers cannot simply absorb these cuts without endangering everyone in the system. It has been 23 years since there have been any cost of living adjustments to these contracts! You can well imagine how much less you could afford in 2010 if your earnings had not increased since 1987. There is nowhere else to cut in these programs without endangering the health and safety of everyone involved in them.

We cannot allow this to occur. These are awful times. People are hurting everywhere. I understand these facts. I also know that the citizens of Massachusetts do not want their leaders to balance the state budget in such a heartless manner. Please call your legislator today and ask them to reverse this cruel cut.

Christopher T. White
Road To Responsibility Inc.