State Budget Debate: Intellectual Disability Community Resolves Not Be Left Behind

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by Gary Blumenthal, Mechanicsburg, PA resident, disability advocate, and former federal official. 

My brother is a 66-year-old with significant life challenges with autism, aging and his fragile health. He and I are encouraged that Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget is the starting point in budget negotiations. The Intellectual Disability/Autism (ID/A) community expects to be heard and answered by the Governor and the General Assembly.

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are those who provide daily (even 24/7) support to people with ID/A. It is an incredibly challenging job, yet DSPs are paid poverty wages. Recent DSP turnover rates in community programs reached an average of 60% with some programs reporting almost 80%. Families and people with ID/A receiving in-home supports or employment services rely on DSPs to live successfully in their homes and communities.

This year especially, the ID/A community is resolved not to be left behind by decades of underfunding and broken promises.

There are human service and ID/A supporters in both political parties. ID/A providers have met with members of the General Assembly and the Governor’s Administration and are optimistic.

Governor Shapiro and DHS Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh have a deep understanding of the human services community, particularly the ID/A community. In fact, the Governor called out the crisis in the ID/A community in his budget presentation when he noted the despair felt by “so many parents who are desperate” for supports and services for their family members with ID/A. He said he knows that families are “devastated” by the lack of funding for ID/A services. His willingness to take a public stand on this issue is a critical first step in addressing the ID/A crisis.

The Governor’s budget is a good start, but it must be significantly amended to have any chance of preventing the collapse of this system. It is critical for Governor and the General Assembly to come together and fund the $430 million requested by the ID/A community and also approve legislation to provide an annual inflation index to ID/A programs to assure that people with ID/A are not left behind.

These are our neighbors and our family members. This is my brother. We must act on their behalf right now.