Despite the optimism surrounding California’s re-opening, the number of new COVID-19 cases stubbornly rises. The economy, bolstered by better than expected unemployment numbers, struggles to re-start and gain a solid foothold. Based on what we’re seeing, our recovery will be a long, laborious and expensive process.
As a coalition of statewide and regional associations and organizations representing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and support staff, we know that our State won’t fully recover unless and until we protect Californians who are most vulnerable at this time.
Thankfully, Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature rose to the challenge by protecting Californians with developmental disabilities in this year’s budget. Facing the most challenging deficit in a decade, our leaders preserved funding for the more than 360,000 individuals statewide (as well as their families and direct support professionals) that make-up the disability community.
On behalf of the Lanterman Coalition, we wholeheartedly thank our state elected officials for their leadership when we needed it the most.
However important this year’s state funding may be, it is important that our federal lawmakers advocate for the needs of the disability community during the COVID-19 threat too. In her proposed HEROES Act, Congressional House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prioritized state of emergency funding for our community with several important provisions, and now we need her Congressional colleagues to follow her lead.
Leadership from California state and federal elected officials could not come at a more critical time. Talk of the “new normal” is anything but. For the disability community, this phrase represents a massive understatement. Our community faces significant concerns. Many people with disabilities have pre-existing conditions that place them at greater risk of complications from COVID-19. They also carry greater exposure and transmission risks, particularly for those individuals living in a residential group home setting staffed by frontline direct support personnel.
So, for California’s disability community, adjusting to the “new normal” with modified programs that minimize exposure to COVID-19 and keeps our most vulnerable safe necessitates significant – and costly – changes.
As families and caregivers eye the future, efforts to provide quality of life and, in many cases, life-sustaining support will look much different as we implement many new safety protocols for our community. These mandates will have a major economic impact to disability service providers as they modify services, reduce in-person day program ratios and maintain social distancing. Some of the pandemic-related operational costs will include personal protective equipment, additional sanitation practices, more frequent transportation with lower ratios, increasing staff wages for those working on the front lines, testing equipment, new technology to facilitate remote services, and other modifications that aren’t yet known.
As this public health crisis continues to evolve, these modifications will remain in place until we achieve what Governor Newsom has described as “herd immunity” or until we discover a vaccine or viable treatment. It could take months to fully resume programs as they were before the pandemic.
As our state grows accustomed to these changes, it will be critical that we ensure continuity of care for individuals with disabilities. State and federal support is not only necessary, it’s essential for support staff to provide critical support services to Californians with disabilities.
The Legislature and Governor will re-evaluate the budget in August when the depth of our economic recovery, federal relief and the tax receipts are known. In the meantime, our community cannot wait given that we face an uncertain future. It’s essential that the federal government – the president and Congress – step up to help now.
Sacramento has done its job. As has Speaker Pelosi. Now it’s time for the U.S. Senate to focus its attention on issues that truly matter in July when the U.S. Senate resumes session and will be making critical decisions about emergency relief funding to the disability community during the pandemic.
We must do everything possible to minimize the impact of this outbreak on those with disabilities, and we urge our federal leaders to work to ensure any final bi-partisan agreement on the next COVID assistance legislation includes the provisions in the House bill.
On behalf of the more than 360,000 Californians with disabilities and their families, thank you Governor Newsom, the California Legislature, and our federal elected officials for your leadership. The funding decisions you make to protect vital support services and keep our community whole speak volumes about your priorities.
Visit TheLantermanCoalition.org to learn more about how you can become an advocate for those with developmental disabilities.
Jordan Lindsey, Executive Director, The Arc of California and Chair, The Lanterman Coalition
About The Lanterman Coalition – www.thelantermancoalition.org
The Lanterman Coalition is a coalition of statewide and regional associations and organizations representing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and the workforce. It works to uphold the principles of the The Lanterman Act by advocating on behalf of Californians with developmental disabilities. Under this Act, the person with a developmental disability is entitled to receive services that enable the individual to live a more independent and productive life in an inclusive community.