Disabled rights should trump budget cuts
In 1977, when Jerry Brown, then in his first term as governor, signed the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act, it was a breakthrough moment.
The act was named for Republican Assemblyman Frank B. Lanterman of Los Angeles who, during 28 years in office, fought for the rights of people with disabilities.
The Lanterman Act, considered one of the nation’s guiding standards, ensures equal rights for Americans born with disabilities. Lanterman enabled thousands of citizens to move from lonely, isolated institutions into the community. Rights for developmentally disabled Americans are no less important to our country than civil rights, voting rights, gay rights or women’s rights.
Last June, 34 years later and into his third term, Brown signed a budget that threatens rights under Lanterman if the state can’t raise enough taxes to pay its bills.
At Becoming Independent (BI), where we provide education, jobs, living support and other essential services for 1,300 men, women and children in Sonoma, Solano and Napa counties under the Lanterman Act, we can’t allow that to happen.
BI and other nonprofits have issued dire warnings for several years as state leaders cut and squeezed programs to pass budgets as revenues decline.
For three years, we’ve shouldered the impact of 4.25 percent in revenue cuts. Brown held the cuts at that level in the current budget, but he created a mechanism to automatically cut more if revenues fall short.
Those so-called “trigger cuts” begin Jan. 1 if, on Dec. 15, the tax collector says California is not producing enough revenues. So far, it appears the state is going to fall far short.
Revenues for BI programs are on that first list of trigger cuts. How deep are the cuts? We don’t know. But BI’s staff and board of directors decided we can’t wait for the axe to fall.
In recent months we reviewed our programs and revenues, the number of people and families we serve, the North Bay employers who hire BI workers and the economic impact on our BI staff of 350 people.
Our conclusion: This is an issue of basic rights afforded to Californians with disabilities. It’s the law. Our challenge is to figure out how to raise the money to deliver Lanterman’s promise that “California accepts a responsibility for persons with developmental disabilities and an obligation to them which it must discharge.”
Our plan is similar to efforts seen before in Sonoma County when the community raised funds to protect school programs threatened by budget cuts.
How much do we need? Factoring in state revenues (86 percent of our budget), federal education funds, and contracts with employers who hire our workers, our worst-case projected shortfall is about $1.9 million.
For the sake of simplicity, call it 2 cool million.
We therefore launched our 2COOL2FAIL campaign in October and created ways to enable everyone to participate – fundraisers, grants and philanthropy, in-kind donations, corporate support. You name it, we’ll be trying it.
The stakes are spelled out in Lanterman. They’re so basic one wonders why such things were even an issue in 1977. But they represent everything it means to be an American. Rights to live in the community with dignity, privacy and humane care. Rights to go to school, enjoy religious freedom, obtain prompt medical care, be free from unnecessary restraint, isolation, excessive medication, abuse or neglect and to be free from hazardous procedures such as electrical shock treatment. And finally, rights for people “to make choices in their own lives.”
Lanterman also provided for the creation of nonprofit agencies, like BI, that are charged with making these rights real. That’s what we do.
As we all deal with the impact of budget cuts on important programs and issues – schools, poverty, hunger – it’s imperative that people with disabilities be on the priority list.
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Cami Weaver is CEO of Becoming Independent, (becomingindependent.org), which has locations in the cities of Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Napa.