We are off and running

Published Jan. 16, 2009

The 2009 legislative session is already in full swing. In this first week of session public testimony has been held on the Governor’s budget, committees have held work sessions to get information on the issues they must make tough decisions on and bills have already been drafted, dropped in the “hopper”, assigned bill numbers and are being scheduled for hearings.

The budget is, of course, the top priority on every legislator’s mind with the $6 billion plus deficit our state is facing. Advocates for those with developmental disabilities were relieved that cuts to services and supports for the families we serve were not more drastic than they were. Advocates had suggested some efficiency ideas to the Governor and legislative staff that would enable them to not only protect these services, but also to restructure some of them in such a way that they actually bring in more federal dollars to help our state.

The most controversial of these budget cuts is the closure of one of our five institutions, located in Yakima, called Residential Habilitation Centers (RHCs). People with developmental disabilities are able to live and thrive in their own communities. It is not just that living in the community makes their lives more useful and more fulfilling, the other benefit is the enormous savings to our state’s budget and its taxpayers. Our state received a federal grant two years ago which provides the funding for the services and supports for the individuals moving from the RHC to the community.

A recent news article exemplified Washington State saying “Some 40 years ago, the state of Washington provided for its developmentally disabled citizens by keeping them in seven state-run institution, much like New Jersey does now. No more. Today, most of Washington’s developmentally disabled residents live in their own homes or in community living. As a result, the state’s number of institutionalized individuals with developmental disabilities has declined from 8,000 to 1,300.” Living in the community is not only what individuals with disabilities want, not being warehoused in institutions, but the daily cost of support is much less.

Some bills to keep an eye on that have already started making their way through the process include HB 1226/SB 5117 which will put the Children’s Intensive In-home Behavior Supports program into state statute. This program was created last session to keep children with severe behavior issues from being institutionalized. HB 1161 helps legislators look at early intervention services and how they are provided. HB 1210/SB 5203 known as Shayan’s Law, will address insurance parity for those with autism.

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

What can you do to help?

The Arc of Washington State has an Action E-list 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. Advocacy Day will be at United Churches at 10 am every Wednesday during session starting January 28th.That day will also be the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council’s Statewide Legislative Reception which will be held in the Pritchard Library Cafeteria.

Remember, change is made by those who show up!

Diana Stadden
Arc of Washington State
Policy and Advocacy Coordinator