Budget Cuts Stymie Progress for People with Disabilities

FEATURING: Dane Marach, Luxemburg, Wisconsin

Dennis O’Connor, Washington, District of Columbia


50 Years of Progress at Stake

For more than 50 years, the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights or “DD Act” has helped to make sure that people with developmental disabilities—permanent physical and/or cognitive disabilities acquired before age 22—are able to thrive as independent and productive citizens in fully integrated and inclusive communities.

The Councils on Developmental Disabilities were created by the DD Act and serve to implement programs and policies in every state and territory for over 5.4 million Americans with developmental disabilities. With the help of these “DD Councils,” most Americans with developmental disabilities are no longer housed in institutions and instead have the opportunity to live and work within their communities. The DD Councils also serve in an advisory role to U.S. Congress, state legislatures, governors, and state agencies to ensure that all laws and policies take into account the interests of people with developmental disabilities.

In 2012, before sequestration, the Department of Health and Human Services budget provided $75 million through the Administration for Community Living for all 56 DD Councils to create state projects for innovative and creative community programs to advance employment, education, and health care for Americans with developmental disabilities. After sequestration, DD Councils have been cut by almost $4 million, with each DD Council sharing in cuts to programs, staff, and state investments.

A recent survey of DD Councils shows that impact of sequestration has included cutting back on grant programs, such as the employment initiatives and laying off employees to implement these successful models. DD Councils have had to cut impactful and needed programs just to meet budget requirements. These cuts include resources to support families who are learning more about their child’s diagnosis where the DD Council has historically been the primary source of funding for this information. As one DD Council laments, “Families are starving for information and an opportunity to meet other families. This was some of the best money we invested as families came home [from conferences] with tons of resources for themselves, for the Council, and for other families with the same diagnosis.” At least 17 DD Councils reported that they either reduced funding, cut entire funding to one or more grantees, cut programs offered by the DD Council, or would have to very soon. These programs include transition programs for children with disabilities, employment programs, and programs to promote self-advocacy for adults with disabilities.

It Pays to Live in the Community

The National Council on Disability has shown that taxpayers pay far less to invest in people living in the community than in supporting a life in an institution. In Arizona, for example, supporting a person to live in a state institution costs $151,840 annually while home and community-based services through Medicaid waivers cost $26,805 annually (an estimated savings of over $125,000 per person annually). The DD Council programs take the next step of community integration with employment initiatives that create self-sufficient, tax-paying citizens whom contribute greatly to communities. Investing in the DD Councils and over 5.4 million people with developmental disabilities creates cost savings, while making sure that the noble values of the DD Act and Americans with Disabilities Act are fully achieved.

Banking on DD Council Employment Initiatives

DD Councils view employment for people with developmental disabilities as a key priority of their work. Less than 20 percent of the 5.4 million people with developmental disabilities are represented in the workplace. DD Councils have led the innovation to address the lack of employment for this community.

Dane Marach, Luxemberg, WISCONSIN

Dane Marach is one of those students who achieved his employment goal through the Wisconsin DD Council program. Dane is from a small, rural town in northern Wisconsin. His path was set to go to a sheltered workshop after he left school. By participating in the project, Dane’s teachers learned how to approach employers, his parents felt more comfortable letting Dane experience community employment, and an employer participant provided him a job opportunity. Dane now works at the Bank of Luxemburg, and since beginning his job he has become more confident, developing friendships and becoming an integral part of the staff. Dane’s employer, John, says having him at the bank is “well worth the time spent on planning” and his parents are no longer fearful for his future employment opportunities.

The Let’s Get to Work project of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities equips students, families, teachers, and communities to hold high expectations for integrated employment outcomes of youth with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program—which implements low-cost and no-cost strategies—has resulted in the integrated employment rates of pilot youth tripling in the first year.

Dennis O’Connor, Washington D.C.

Since obtaining his Master’s Degree and Juris Doctorate, Dennis O’Connor has attended many diversity career fairs to seek employment. When he participated in the DC DD Council’s Disability Mentoring Day in October 2013 as a mentee for TD Bank, Dennis was pleasantly surprised to have the opportunity to meet with several TD employees and secure numerous interviews for a job.

Now an employee at TD Bank, Dennis has repeatedly heard from his leadership that diversity is not only the right thing to strive for, but it critical to achieving business success. TD Bank recognizes that people with disabilities represent 40 – 60 percent of U.S. citizens without a checking account, and they are reaching out this community to help. Hiring people with disabilities is helping TD Bank expand its business by reflecting their customers in their employees. As Brian Monday, TD Bank Regional Market President in Washington, D.C. expresses, “Take care of each other; take care of your customers; and grow the brand.” The DC DD Council’s employment initiative is good for skilled and talented people with disabilities facing unemployment such as Dennis, and good for businesses such as TD Bank.

National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities

i National Council on Disability The Costs of Deinstitutionalization: Comparing the Costs of Institution Versus Community-Based Services (2012) Found at http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/DIToolkit/Costs/inDetail/