Writing today's column made me crave the days of old when we could go on and on and on in print. Compelling arguments and lovely people often get stuck in the notebook when you only have 700 words to tell a story.
So, as promised, here are a few more scenes from a group interview I did Tuesday with members of the intellectually disabled community, their parents and service providers -- all of whom are bracing for another round of Corbett administration budget cuts that make their difficult lives even more excruciating.
"We dont want budge cut because we want our programs stay," 53-year-old Northeast Philadelphia group home resident Barbara Romanisky wrote (misspellings preserved for authenticity, see her letter above) at the gathering before Gov. Corbett's somber speech. "I belive that we should not be affard to speak up for our right."
Martine DeLorenzo, a single mother of five with three sons with mental health issues -- including one with profound disabilities -- described trying to juggle part-time work and full-time caregiving.
"We save the state money by not putting him in an institution," she reminds, "but the services he gets now will end when he's 21. At that point, if he doesn't have services, I won't be able to work. So he's going to have to support his whole family with a $674 disability check? I have a house and a car. We'll be in poverty."
Lynn Powell, a mother of almost-21-year-old son, Roby, shared the reality that DeLorenzo fears: No stimulating programs, or uninspired offerings even if she could get him a slot, which so far, she cannot.
"They don't have transportation. They don't have staff," the Wallingford woman said. "Last week, I visited one adult day program that was so disheartening." People supposedly learning job skills were exposed to noxious fumes. Others, she said, were "crawling on the floor. They had no where to go outside. And most of the staff did not speak English."
Robert Eckert, a truck driver for Wawa who lives in Garnet Valley, spoke of feeling guilty that he was successful in landing his 22-year-old in a group home. He did it, he admitted, only after securing a lawyer with a program Wawa offers employees.
"He's non-verbal. He can't toilet. He needs you to hover over him while he's eating," Eckert explained. "I hate that you have to restate his need over and over again, like all of a sudden my son could get 'better.'"
Joe McGrath, a Drexel Hill father with whom I've long corresponded, showed the group a photo of his darling 12-year-old daughter, Maura. ""IS this the face of theft and fraud?" he asked, explaining that she was one of the 125,000-plus Pennsylvanians kicked off Medicaid by state Department of Public Welfare officials last year.
"We didn't even know she was kicked off until her services just stopped," he explained. "When in the hell is this government going to stop putting politics over people?"
How misguided is the state's view of what the intellectually disabled need and are legally entitled to? So misguided, Vision for Equality's Audrey Coccia tells me, that when DPW Commissioner Gary Alexander was recently confronted by a families arguing that without group home funding or in-home services, their developmentally challenged loved ones would be cast adrift, forced into nursing care or institutions. His response, according to Coccia:
"We'll find someone on welfare who will be glad to take them in or adopt them."
So a welfare recipient with no job or skills is suddenly qualified to care for others who are profoundly disabled with medical and mental health needs because it would be a cheaper alternative? Priceless.
-- Monica Yant Kinney