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Advocates Urge Lawmakers To Fund Developmental Disability Services

Andrew Quintana

Tuesday in Tallahassee was a day for love and awareness. Governor Rick Scott marked the day as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day. Advocates took it as their cue to ask for their legislative priorities this Valentines Day.

Richard Bradley is the Chairman of the Board for the ARC of Florida. A non-profit organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with developmental disabilities. The 40 years he has spent helping individuals with developmental disabilities began at home with his sister Kathy.

“Kathy had a measured IQ of about 23. So she needed supervision. She was very capable of doing many things, but she needed supervision. Supervision is literally a matter of life and death for those less capable,” Bradley says.

Those that provide such supervision are direct care workers- a job Bradley performed for his sister.

But, he says inconsistent direct care staff is a concern for many. Over the last 10 years, the national turnover rate of direct care staff has reached 70 percent. Meaning 60 to 70 percent of direct care workers switch out of the homes they are working in. Bradley attributes this turnover to a lack of funding for providers.

“30 percent of the providers of direct services have abandoned the field over the last few years. Think about that. 30 percent of the people, or the organizations who have been providing these services, have abandoned it completely over the last couple of years,” Bradley says.

The Arc of Florida and The Developmental Disabilities Council joined forces Tuesday to plead their cases for increased funding in developmental disability services, transportation providers, and job training programs.

Their efforts have led to Governor Rick Scott proposing an $89 million budget plan for developmental disabilities services.

However, Barbara Palmer, Director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, says there is still a ways to go. The Senate has proposed a $66 million budget plan, while the House-spending plan includes nothing. She says failing to provide enough funding could hurt families waiting on help getting services through waivers.

“The waiver started back in the 80s, and at that time some of the parents were in their 20s and 30s. They’re now in their 60s and 70s. They need help to take care of their loved ones, especially to keep them in their homes,” Palmer says.

Palmer sympathizes with the plight of the direct care workers as well, and urges the legislature to pass laws that provide caretakers with a livable wage, not just a minimum wage that is non-recurring.

“We’re asking for that to be recurring money. Because every year if it’s non-recurring you have to keep going back in to ask for it,” Palmer says.

Both organizations urged families to continue speaking to their representatives for the remainder of the session.