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Budget Cuts Could Put Developmentally Disabled ‘in Danger’

Yesterday, The Arc of California filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fresno, saying that state officials have violated federal law by shortchanging programs for people with developmental disabilities.

The Arc, a national advocacy organization that began in 1953 as NARC — the National Association for Retarded Children — changed its name to The Arc in 1992.

“We want to stop the state from violating federal law, with both their direct and indirect payments,” according to lead attorney Bill McLaughlin.

He said the state gets federal funding under the Home and Community Based Services waiver, and that money needs to go where it was intended — to services for the developmentally disabled. Budget cuts have hit programs for the developmentally disabled, McLaughlin said, even as the state continues to collect federal money for those services.

“We are not seeking monetary damages,” McLaughlin said, “but only to have the state follow the law.”

The state says that it’s following the law and that budgets simply had to be cut.

“Given the size of the budget shortfall, difficult decisions are needed,” Nancy Lungren of the California Department of Developmental Services said. “However, consumer health and safety remains our highest priority.”

And to that end, she said, the state is actually doing right by its developmentally disabled.

“California is the only state in the nation with an entitlement to services for persons with developmental disabilities,” Lungren said. “The department has sought out federal dollars and continues to work with our federal partners to maximize participation through Medicaid. Over a billion dollars comes from federal sources for supports and services of persons with developmental disabilities.”

The lawsuit said that the state made those budget cuts without getting federal approval on the waiver.

“Before they change rate payments, they first must get prior approval from federal agencies,” McLaughlin said.

Tony Anderson, executive director of The Arc, said that the organization has tried to fashion a compromise with the state, but it became clear to him that the cuts and rate freezes would continue.

“We’ve been working with the Department of Developmental Services, but in our view, it’s just gotten worse and worse, and really, now there’s no alternative for us,” Anderson said. “People with disabilities, their health and safety will be compromised by this. They will be in danger.”

Most of the services cut, Anderson said, have been family support services, such as respite care and in-home supportive services.

One other point, advocates said, is that there may be a disproportionate impact of budget cuts on people with developmental disabilities — because they’re a high-cost group.

It costs the state about $17,000 a year, on average, to help someone with developmental disabilities, Anderson said, and there are roughly 245,000 of them in the state.

“Cuts will affect more costly programs the most,” McLaughlin said. “We allege the state did not consider if the cuts would have disproportionate impact on people with developmental disabilities.”

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