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Funding changes pose threat

I consider myself very fortunate to be the legal guardian of a young man with developmental disabilities. Though he doesn’t live with my family, and he’s technically not one of my children, we consider him to be one of us. He lives in a group home operated by a local provider. My family is blessed, as he has staff who truly care about him and friends who share similar experiences. I know that other parents and guardians in the community feel the same way. Some of our children or loved ones go to Eagle Ridge, to Easter Seals, or to RENEW. Some just attend programs during the day, while others go to group homes at night.

Unfortunately, these programs face a very real threat. The Wyoming Department of Health is poised to make significant funding changes that will force providers to do much more with much less. We don’t have many details right now, but what we do know isn’t good. We do know that providers like Eagle Ridge, Easter Seals, and RENEW will have to serve up to 20 percent more people with no additional funding. In fact, these programs have already absorbed the same budget cuts that others around the state faced two years ago.

The underlying goals of these proposed changes are good. There are, for example, around 500 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Wyoming who are on a “waiting list” for services. These changes seek to eliminate this “waiting list,” which we all agree is a good thing. You just can’t expect, however, that providers will serve people on this waiting list — a 17-20 percent increase — with no additional funding. It just won’t work, and I’m not aware of any other state agency asking providers to do anything remotely similar.

I appreciate fiscal conservatism. It’s important that we all make do with less. I just don’t think that those who are our most vulnerable — along with our seniors — should be forced to take a disproportionately high percentage of the hit. We’re already hearing reports of individuals not qualifying for services due to some of these changes.

What can you do? Talk to somebody who is the parent or guardian of someone with a disability.

Better yet, talk to someone with a disability. Chances are pretty good you know someone already. Learn more about what they accomplish with support. They work in the community, pay taxes and volunteer to help others.

Educate yourself regarding these issues and talk to your local legislators. The Facebook page for the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities is a good place to learn more.

And perhaps most important, do something. A group of parents, guardians and advocates are holding a rally in front of the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne on Aug. 29, 2013, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. This group, called Wyoming Parents Empowering Parents, is holding this event to promote disability awareness and to share their concerns with these proposed changes. This group welcomes parents, guardians, and advocates from all around the state, so if you can make it, they would love to have you. More information can be found on the organization’s Facebook page.

This issue is important, as these services are vital to some very special people in the community. And we have an obligation to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.

Craig Fisgus

Sheridan


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