Commentary

Pa.’s intellectual disability community will not be left out of 2023’s budget debate | Opinion

These are our neighbors and our family members. This is my brother. We must act on their behalf right now

Direct service providers rally for more money in the 2022-23 state budget at the Pennsylvania state Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

Direct service providers rally for more money in the 2022-23 state budget at the Pennsylvania State Capitol on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

By Gary Blumenthal

My brother is a 66-year-old with significant life challenges with autism, aging and his fragile health. He and I are encouraged that Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget is the starting point in budget negotiations. The Intellectual Disability/Autism (ID/A) community expects to be heard and answered by the governor and the General Assembly. 

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are those who provide daily (even 24/7) support to people with ID/A. It is an incredibly challenging job, yet DSPs are paid poverty wages.

Recent DSP turnover rates in community programs reached an average of 60% with some programs reporting almost 80%. Families and people with ID/A receiving in-home supports or employment services rely on DSPs to live successfully in their homes and communities.  

This year especially, the ID/A community is resolved not to be left behind by decades of underfunding and broken promises

There are human service and ID/A supporters in both political parties. ID/A providers have met with members of the General Assembly and the Shapiro administration and are optimistic. 

Shapiro, and acting Department of Human Services Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh, have a deep understanding of the human services community, particularly the ID/A community.

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In fact, the governor called out the crisis in the ID/A community in his budget presentation when he noted the despair felt by “so many parents who are desperate” for supports and services for their family members with ID/A.

He said he knows that families are “devastated” by the lack of funding for ID/A services. His willingness to take a public stand on this issue is a critical first step in addressing the ID/A crisis. 

Shapiro’s budget proposal is a good start, but it must be significantly amended to have any chance of preventing the collapse of this system.

It is critical for governor and the General Assembly to come together and fund the $430 million requested by the ID/A community and also approve legislation to provide an annual inflation index to ID/A programs to assure that people with ID/A are not left behind.  

These are our neighbors and our family members. This is my brother. We must act on their behalf right now. 

Gary Blumenthal, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is a longtime disability advocate, and former federal official. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.

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