Facebook Twitter

Don’t forget the disabled

SHARE Don’t forget the disabled

The waiting list for the state Division of Services for People with Disabilities has become a giant logjam. Many people's needs are piling up, while funding exists to address only a portion of them. Meanwhile, the needs continue to accumulate. Nearly 500 people were on the waiting list in 1990. It is now nearly four times that many.

Part of the problem is that Utah's policy of providing services is to provide assistance to people who are in a crisis or close to it. People with less-expensive needs, such as respite care for a caregiver or a job coach, are considered lesser priorities, even though in those cases a little support would likely go a long way to keep people with disabilities out of institutional settings or help to ensure their independence.

According to state figures, about 4,139 people are being served by the Division of Services for People with Disabilities. Another 1,893 are on a waiting list with a wide array of service needs. Eliminating the waiting list would take more than $8 million a year in ongoing money, plus approximately $1.1 million for people already receiving services. But such a large appropriation must include a commitment on the part of lawmakers and DSPD to create a more workable system for the people who will invariably seek services in the future. It shouldn't take a crisis to trigger assistance.

We can only imagine the frustration of families that have waited years for services to hear Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and legislative leaders talk about very large budget cuts. If there was an opportunity to pare down or even eliminate the waiting list, this would be the year to do it. Under Medicaid, state dollars are matched by the federal government on about a 3-1 ratio, so the draw-down would enable the state to make considerable progress in whittling down the list.

However, some lawmakers are reticent to extend the budget in a way that forces future Legislatures to make budget cuts during downturns in the economy. That's certainly understandable. But there is likely a means to devise funding formulas to hedge against the cyclical nature of the economy.

Again, the Legislature has to balance the budget and weigh this issue against other pressing needs. But the process of distributing these funds needs to be fixed so that smaller — and less expensive — supports can be initiated to help people maintain or improve their conditions. Crisis management is the most expensive way to operate this program, which is essentially what's happening now. We hope the Legislature, in concert with DSPD and the advocacy community, can come up with a better process. A good first step would be a task force to develop concrete legislative recommendations to fix the process once and for all.