Editorial: Brown and Legislature must step up for developmentally disabled residents

By the Editorial Board
December 12, 2015

Appalling doesn’t even begin to describe the failure of Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratic-controlled Legislature to adequately fund services for California’s nearly 290,000 developmentally disabled people.

It’s shameful. It’s disgusting. And it must be corrected.

A good beginning would be a one-time, 10 percent hike in state support for these services. This is the hike recommended by advocates. If approved, it would be a mere stitch on a gaping wound created by nearly three decades of funding shortfalls.

In a Dec. 11 news package, Bee health reporter Barbara Anderson and photographer/videographer John Walker documented the economic challenges faced by care providers such as The Arc Fresno/Madera Counties and United Cerebral Palsy of Central California.

“We are on our knees, and there is absolutely no support for what we are doing,” Lori Ramirez, Arc’s executive director, told Anderson.

Jeffrey Snyder, executive director of our local UCP, said that his organization is relying on fundraising to keep its doors open: “Fresno is a generous community or we wouldn’t be here.”

Brown and Democratic leaders in the Assembly and the Senate are well aware of the problem. Newspaper editorial boards throughout the state called for increased funding earlier this year.

Those pleas fell on deaf ears in the Capitol, where priority all too often is given to the governor’s and lawmakers’ pet programs and the desires of well-heeled special interests.

In the last budget go-round, leaders failed to address the squeeze on care providers despite a February report by the Association of Regional Center Agencies that said California’s developmental services system is “on the brink of a collapse.”

For those not familiar with “regional centers,” allow us to explain. California’s 21 regional centers were created under the 1977 Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act. The centers contract with providers for services for their clients. The Central Valley Regional Center serves about 17,600 children and adults.

The funding shortfall is so acute that six service providers in our area have gone out of business in the past two years, according to Heather Flores, executive director of the Central Valley Regional Center.

Hardest hit have been homes caring for people with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism, and people requiring ventilators. These homes have been shuttered because the state’s reimbursement rates are insufficient to cover rising costs for insurance, workers’ compensation and the higher minimum wage.

State leaders should know that service providers such as Arc and UCP do amazing work and that their employees are passionate about the mission.

Take Marcella Bracamonte, for example. She’s worked for the center for 10 years and earns $12.30 an hour.

Wrote Anderson: When she was hired, she thought she’d stay a year, but Bracamonte, 39, found the job overseeing and training workers at the center too gratifying to leave.

“It fulfills their lives and fulfills my life,” she said. “When I see a big smile on their faces, I know they’re feeling good.”

We understand that Brown has budget problems to solve, even though the state is estimated to have a $7.9 billion reserve. California is facing the loss of $1.1 billion in federal funds for Medi-Cal because of an issue about a managed-care tax. This is one of the reasons why the governor is calling a special health session of the Legislature early next year.

But given the state’s longtime failure to properly fund services for California’s most vulnerable residents, addressing their needs should be among the first priorities for Brown and the Legislature.

We encourage Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and incoming Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to visit Arc and UCP so they can see for themselves how far state dollars are being stretched and why more equitable funding is urgently needed.

ARC clients Stacy Hill, left, and Don Hobson, right, place labels on packages as training supervisor Marcella Bracamonte looks on at the ARC’s.