Access Living Director testifies in Springfield in support of independence

In this photo, Rahnee Patrick, Access Living’s Director of Independent Living, testifies in the Springfield Rotunda during a rally in 2011
Rahnee Patrick, Director of Independent Living at Access Living, testified in Springfield, Illinois on March 21 before the Senate Appropriations Committee in regards to the Illinois Budget. The budget concerns many Illinois residents, including people with disabilities.

Since the Governor’s State of the State Address in early 2012, people with disabilities have been closely following budget discussions. In February advocates from Access Living traveled to Springfield for the Governor’s official budget address. They called on Governor Quinn and Illinois legislators to protect the independence of people with disabilities, and to invest in and build upon programs that enable people with disabilities to live and participate in communities of their choice rather than institutions. The budget address brought mixed reviews. On more than one occasion he referenced a commitment to rebalancing Illinois’ system of long-term care, including a pledge to “improve the quality of life” of people with disabilities by transitioning from institutional services to community-based services. To back up the pledge, Quinn proposed the closure of the Murray Developmental Center. “Governor Quinn’s commitment to rebalancing Illinois’s system of long-term care, and the closure of Murray is a great step in the right direction for Illinois,” said Amber Smock, Access Living’s Director of Advocacy.

Though disability advocates are thrilled that the Governor committed to rebalance Illinois system of long-term care, it is clear that budget cuts will be felt by many across the state, including people with disabilities. In the budget address, Governor Quinn announced that, in terms of Medicaid, he proposes that the state “reconsider eligibility, services, utilization and payments” in order to bring it in line with appropriations. Also, budget details revealed that it will be more difficult for people with disabilities to access Illinois’ Home Services program, and people who do access the program may not receive the same level of support they once did.

Beginning in February, after the budget address, Access Living advocates have been traveling to Springfield and meeting with legislators to deliver the message that, if people with disabilities lose the supports or cannot access the supports of Home Services, they may be forced into institutions, which would rob people of their independence and cost the state more money.

On March 21, Patrick continued these efforts. She told the Appropriations Committee that the Home Services Program needs to be fully funded, while the Governor’s proposed allocation for the Community Reintegration Program is not enough. Both programs support people with disabilities’ choice to live in their own homes and communities, outside of institutions and nursing homes. Last year, the Community Reintegration Program ran out of money. As a result, not as many people could move into the community and were forced to remain segregated and isolated in nursing homes. Investing in the Community Reintegration Program is a smart move because the more people move out of institutions, the more money Illinois will save because community services cost less than institutional services. Patrick also thanked Illinois for continuing to fund Illinois Centers for Independent Living at the current rate.

Patrick, Smock, and others will continue to travel to Springfield and advocate for a budget that supports people with disabilities living in the community. The goal is to show Governor Quinn and the administration what happens when people with disabilities are cut off from services that support them living in their own homes with their families and loved ones. The hope is to take the conversation out of the political realm and put it into the personal realm but putting a face on the importance of community, independence and empowerment for people with disabilities.

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