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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 11:19 pm | Fair 49º


Supporters Rally Against Proposed Budget Cuts for Those with Special Needs

A crowd gathers in De la Guerra Plaza to speak out about what a loss in funding would mean in the lives of the developmentally disabled

There was a time when institutions were the de facto place for people with developmental disabilities, and Mary Avila remembers it well.

Avila, who now works at PathPoint in Santa Barbara, worked at the Stockton State Hospital before it closed.

“The idea of people with disabilities living in institutions was appalling to so many people,” she told the crowd that gathered Tuesday at De la Guerra Plaza to oppose state budget cuts in store for the disabled. “People have forgotten about that.”

If someone acted out at Stockton or didn’t comply, treatment options were limited to lithium, electroshock therapy and solitary confinement, according to Avila.

“Prisons get better treatment than that,” she said. “We never want to see these people be put in institutions. ... That’s not where they belong.”

That regression is what many fear will happen if proposed budget cuts move forward in Sacramento, and the Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara and nearly a dozen other service providers for the disabled united in protest Tuesday.

The state Department of Developmental Services serves about 244,000 individuals with developmental disabilities, and it saw $500 million in cuts in the past two years. It’s facing its most grueling budget year yet, and $750 million would be gouged from services if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2011-12 budget is approved. It would rely on additional federal revenues, increased accountability and expenditure reductions — all with the intent of upholding the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act.

Jessica Simon, who has Down syndrome, speaks out on behalf of those with developmental disabilities, saying, This community is to be treated with respect.
Jessica Simon, who has Down syndrome, speaks out on behalf of those with developmental disabilities, saying, “This community is to be treated with respect.” (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

That act, at the heart of Tuesday’s rally, was enacted in 1969 and says that people with development disabilities have equal rights like any other citizens. It also says disabled people have the right to services that allow them to live independent lives.

Kim Olson, executive director of the Alpha Resource Center, called on the state to uphold the Lanterman Act. She said that in 1994, she watched a 50-year-old friend move out of a state institution, where he had lived since childhood. Today, he lives on his own, has a job and lives a full life.

“(Gov. Brown) is asking our citizens with developmental disabilities to make a bigger sacrifice than anyone else, and it just isn’t fair,” Olson said.

Jessica Simon, who has Down syndrome and works as a staffer for Alpha, offered an impassioned plea to lawmakers at the state level.

“If you do this, you are ruining all of our lives,” she said. “We are not animals. ... This community is to be treated with respect.”

Dozens of others also spoke out about the cuts Tuesday, including many family members.

Doug Allard, who serves on the board of the Alpha Resource Center, spoke about the importance of continued programming. His son, Ryan, has developmental disabilities, but was able to move into his own apartment and attends a day program with the help of Alpha. Ryan was also covered by Medi-Cal for medical needs.

“He was flourishing,” Allard said, adding that many of his son’s services have been cut since. Medi-Cal would see the largest portion of Gov. Brown’s cuts in the 2011-12 budget if it passes, with $1.7 billion in reductions.

“Every aspect of his life is being threatened,” Allard said of his son. “As a parent, I won’t take this. As a Californian, I’m ashamed of this budget.”

The cuts also would have implications for Special Olympics, according to regional director Sara Spataro. She encouraged those gathered on Tuesday to contact Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and encourage her to vote against funding cuts for programs such as Special Olympics and outreach to school systems.

“We don’t want anyone to not have access to our services,” Spataro said.

Alana Walczak, who serves as a director at Pathpoint, said she took issue with the unknowns in Gov. Brown’s budget.

“They don’t say what’s being cut, it’s just a number,” she said. “They need to have the guts to tell us what they’re going to cut so we can say what’s OK and what isn’t.”

A town hall meeting to talk more about the proposed budget cuts will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. March 3 at PathPoint’s South Santa Barbara Division, 137 Aero Camino in Goleta.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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