Times Union Editorial
Life is a waiting game for many disabled Floridians.
Their names are stacked over 20,000 deep on a statewide list of people who have requested financial help to pay for home-based and community-based services ranging from job training to housing.
Many of these wait-listed Floridians have been on this list for years.
The list has been compiled by the state’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities for years. But most of these disabled people will not be granted the help they need anytime soon.
Why? Because unless one of these individual’s circumstances slip into the critical zone, there isn’t enough money to meet all 20,000 requests.
“We are a miserly state,” Paolo Annino, the director of Florida State University’s Children’s Advocacy Clinic, told the Miami Herald.
“There are people on the wait list who will probably die before they receive actual services.
“Once you are on the wait list, it’s a long, long time.”
As is often the case, money is at the root of the problem.
In fact, a research project at the University of Colorado lists Florida 48th among the 50 states on the amount it spends on community programs for the disabled. Only Nevada and Texas rank lower.
Now the list is encountering additional difficulties as some advocates for the disabled are questioning the criteria for inclusion after three very recent decisions by judges or hearing officers that have forced the agency to accept people it had previously rejected. The Agency for Persons with Disabilities director, Barbara Palmer, recently said her agency will be reviewing the criteria used to include people on the list.
So now not only are people on the list not receiving the services they need, people whose names should be included have been rejected.
What’s going on here?
The list and its criteria were created to establish a way to hook up the disabled with services to keep them in their homes or their community and prevent institutionalization. The Agency for Persons with Disabilities estimates there are more than 50,000 Floridians with covered developmental disabilities resulting from autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and certain other conditions.
The trouble is that the list has grown so large and resources grown so tight that people who need help aren’t getting it. And its increasing length may have had much to do with the use of the criteria to inappropriately exclude people from the list.
Charlotte Temple, the vice president of advocacy for The ARC in Jacksonville, is pleased that some 2,500 additional Floridians’ names were taken off the list when their critical needs were provided with services in 2014-15. Yet she says all 20,578 people on the list have needs.
“No one gets on this list that doesn’t need caregiving or support,” Temple says. “A lot of these people are children with fairly significant needs.”
There are, for example, parents who may have a severely disabled child but are also caring for several other children. Or a person with an illness caring for a disabled adult.
“You might not think their needs are critical, but if you walked a mile in their shoes, you would think differently,” says Deborah Linton, the chief executive officer of ARC Florida.
“They’re some of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens.”
It hasn’t always been this way.
During the boom financial years in Florida under Gov. Jeb Bush, the waiting list was eliminated. Everyone who had been on the list in previous years received funding for services.
But in the eight years since that time, the list has kept building … and building.
Part of that growth can be attributed to the fact that demand for the program is growing. Take autism as a case in point: In 2007, only 1 in 150 children was diagnosed as autistic but by 2014 that number had increased to 1 in 68.
And while the list was building, funding has remained flat.
In Florida only $1.67 is spent per $1,000 of average personal income on community programs for the disabled, according to the University of Colorado’s 2013 study. Compare that to New York and Maine, which spent more than five times the amount spent by Florida.
It’s time to whittle back the wait list.
Providing for people with disabilities is one of the hallmarks of a just society. Florida gets a failing grade for serving its disabled citizens.