Those with developmental disabilities held hostage: Tom Lackey

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In politics, it’s not unusual to see one group’s priorities held hostage in order to leverage something else. What is unusual is that California is holding individuals with developmental disabilities — and funding on which they rely — as a hostage for an unrelated tax on health insurance plans.

To provide some context, the Lanterman Act was signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in the 1960s, making a promise that individuals with developmental disabilities can live in a community setting with the dignity and independence that they deserve.

This is particularly important to me because I began my career as a special education teacher.

Currently, more than a quarter-million Californians are served by the Lanterman Act, but the future of these community-based programs is in serious jeopardy if more funding is not provided to the system.

Individuals relying on these programs are currently facing a crisis as the system has endured over $1 billion in cuts since the recession, forcing many community programs to close or severely roll back services. Unless something begins to change soon, it may no longer be possible to meet the promise California made nearly 50 years ago.

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown made a small step in the right direction in his budget proposal by including an incremental increase — but it is far from enough.

For several years, Assembly Republicans and Democrats have joined the advocacy community in requesting an across-the-board 10 percent increase in funding for developmental services, which would help put the program on a path toward sustainability after years of devastating cuts.

The services provided enhance the lives of people living with disabilities by giving them the support they need to live independent lives. This involves teaching them everything from how to lease an apartment to how to cook, do laundry and take public transportation.

This is a far departure from the days before the Lanterman Act, when many individuals with developmental disabilities were forced to live in developmental centers hidden away from society. However, all the progress made in these recent decades will be derailed if California continues to refuse to provide the funding needed to sustain community-based programs.

California’s general fund has grown in recent years by tens of billions of dollars — a staggering 19 percent increase since 2008 — yet there have been no rate increases to developmental disability programs. The failure to do so has not been due to lack of tax revenue, but it has instead been a failure to prioritize services for those who need them the most.

While other state programs often have powerful special interests to ensure they get funding, this is not the case with developmental disability funding.

Last year, we saw politics block new money to the system. Funding increases have been made contingent on an unrelated new tax on health insurance plans — a complex issue that has no connection to the Lanterman Act. Individuals with developmental disabilities are now being held as hostages as negotiations on this separate tax issue continue into this year.

Rather than making funding contingent on a new tax on health insurance plans, the community deserves to be an annual priority in the budget. Period.

The purpose of government is to help provide a safety net for those who are least able to care for themselves without assistance. It is simply wrong for California to ignore the promise that was made by the Lanterman Act. The money is there to fund these programs, and we can no longer let politics stand in the way of doing what’s right.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, represents the 36th Assembly District, which contains portions of Kern, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, including the communities of Lancaster, Palmdale, Quartz Hill, Acton, Littlerock, Lake Los Angeles, Pearblossom, Mojave, Rosamond, California City, Phelan and Piñon Hills..