RICHMAND, Virginia (WRIC) – A number of Virginia residents with disabilities are waiting a decade or more to access basic services due to lack of funding.
The General Assembly is expected to increase investment in Disability Development (DD), but supporters say existing proposals are neglecting key priorities.
Negotiations are taking place when Virginia remains under federal control for a settlement reached in 2012. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has acknowledged that the state violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failing to meet the need for services as the Commonwealth moves away from institutional care.
Tonya Milling, executive director of the Arch of Virginia, said no budget proposal brings the state closer to significant implementation.
“Both of the budget reports that have been passed are irrelevant to bringing Virginia closer to building a viable community-based support system,” Milling said.
37-year-old Angela West was able to get her own apartment with daily supervision and specialized equipment after receiving a renunciation of cerebral palsy.
«These services are very important, ”West said. “I never thought I could live here, so I felt great.”
West had to wait 12 years to abandon DD, which opened the door to a more independent life.
The 27-year-old daughter of Frederick Vincent Camille, who suffers from autism and Down syndrome, was on the waiting list for 18 years before the slot appeared. For her, this meant greater access to group homes, training, day support programs and employment services.
“You feel like you’ve won the lottery, and you’re crying because it’s a huge relief,” Vincent said. “I was going to lose my job and my home because I had an adult child who was no longer in the school system and her day care was closed.”
Lisa Smith said the problem is a “path to poverty” for many families. She said caring for her 21-year-old daughter Hailey, who suffers from daily seizures, is a full-time job. Smith said she could not return to work without DD Waiver to hire a qualified nurse who could administer medication in emergencies.
“I lost 15 years of work and will never return,” Smith said. “Someone has to be the voice of the voiceless and put politics aside. There are affected families, and it’s not just me. ”
Smith’s daughter is one of 14,260 people currently on the waiting list and one of 3,704 who are considered top priorities based on urgency, according to the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services (DBHDS).
A breakdown of the Commonwealth Institute shows that, as presented by Governor Ralph North, the two-year budget will fund an additional 1,200 slots for waivers in fiscal 2023 and 2024. The budget, drafted by Republicans for the House of Representatives, claims that, but a plan led by Senate Democrats cuts it to 600 extra slots for waivers in fiscal 2024.
All three plans increase compensation rates for some denial services.
“Even if they had slots, they couldn’t get services because providers couldn’t hire staff,” said Kerry Ayres, owner of Moms In Motion, which coordinates services for the disabled.
Ayres said they are struggling with high turnover due to low pay. She said current compensation rates do not attract people with the necessary professional and educational experience.
“They are going to Vava. They are going to Walmart, ”Ayres said. “I need help to provide them with a decent living wage.”
Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) said he was optimistic that the budget plan would have a significant impact, but the backlog would not be resolved overnight. He said the Senate approach involves less funding for additional slots because they are primarily focused on increasing compensation rates.
“Then we’ll stick with it and add extra slots,” Barker said. “It will actually benefit everyone in the long run.”
Barker said the budget increases rates on the most commonly used services as part of the waiver of DD, but he acknowledged that lawmakers will have to reconsider others.
“Some of the rates that are rising are increasing by more than 50 percent because they have been so inadequate that it is virtually impossible for suppliers to come close to covering their costs,” Barker said.
While the House of Representatives and Senate are working on a compromise, Ayres said all services under DD Waivers need to raise provider rates to at least match compensation at Virginia agencies.
“I’m here to ask the General Assembly to put their money where their mouths are, and to support where they say their values are,” Ayres said.