Try to keep up now

Published Feb. 13, 2009

Bills are being heard and legislators are beginning to really hear how some of these ideas would affect the citizens they represent. Legislators heard from families about the need for autism coverage under health insurance plans through Shayan’s Law (SB 5203/HB 1210) and as part of extending the age limit on neurodevelopmental therapies which would include Applied Behavior Analysis (HB 1412). They also heard public testimony on the need for funding for early intervention services and children’s mental health services that would require the mental health system to closely collaborate with the Division of Developmental Disabilities when serving children in that system.

Last week’s Advocacy Day focused on several autism issues with a well attended rally for Autism Awareness Day on the Rotunda in the state capitol. This week the focus was on protecting vulnerable people. A variety of pieces of legislation are being looked at. HB 1788/SB 5639 were recommended by the State Attorney General and would create more severe penalties for felony crimes committed against vulnerable adults. HB 2078 would create some guidelines and training for the times when a person with a developmental disability enters a jail or correction facility.

The controversy of closing institutions

The Governor’s budget proposal included closing Yakima Valley, one of the five Residential Habilitation Centers (RHC) in our state that house individuals with developmental disabilities. Legislators seem very receptive this session because of the fiscal savings. Paid guardians and some parents are trying to stop this from happening. Advocates are trying to address their fears with factual evidence of supports and assistance families will receive during and after the move. Advocate and self advocates share the concerns families have and want to provide support to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.

It is important for advocates to point out to their legislators that it is unfair that a small number of individuals are guaranteed very expensive services by state employees whose jobs are highly paid and cannot be taken away, yet thousands of other individuals with developmental disabilities with exactly the same types of service needs get absolutely nothing except to put their name on a waiting list. Employees of service providers in the community who often provide the same level of care as their counterparts in the RHCs are paid much less and have no job guarantees.

Federal help on the way?

Another issue we are watching closely is the federal stimulus package coming to our state. Part of that package will include FMAP dollars, funding that matches what the state spends on Medicaid services and other federal programs. This funding should remain in the programs that generate those monies, but could be siphoned off to the general fund if we don’t remain vigilant and make our voices heard.

What can you do to help?

The Arc of Washington State has an Action Network that you can sign up for that makes it very easy for you to let your legislators know what is most important to you. When bills or budget items need emails or phone calls targeted to your legislator you will receive an email with basic information about the issues and a suggested email you can revise or just send that will go directly to your legislator from you with just the click of a button.

You can also participate in this process by phone, email and personal visits to ask legislators to make sure that bills you are most concerned about get pulled to the Floor for a vote.

The Olympia Insider video podcast is a concise preview and review of what’s happening with developmental disability advocacy in Washington’s capitol city.

Be sure to sign up on the Action Network so that many voices are heard as change is made by those who show up!

Diana Stadden
Arc of Washington State
Policy and Advocacy Coordinator