Over the summer I moved from Illinois to Minnesota, in large part because state governments matter for families like mine. My son has Down syndrome, and eventually he’s going to be dependent on a state government. We wanted one that was functional, well-funded, and inclusive. Illinois fails on all three grounds. Good government, especially at the state level, can create the conditions for people with disabilities to live independently and thrive. Bad governments, on the other hand, magnify and intensify vulnerability.
Mostly buried beneath early November’s onslaught of news, stories from Oklahoma, Iowa, and Maine reveal the ways that state governments, through both apparent incompetence and maliciousness, are failing disabled residents and their families. In the first two examples, disability programs are being cut as a result of self-imposed budget crises. In the third, the governor is using disability as a shield to ignore the will of the voters, while at the same time not serving disabled Mainers.
Oklahoma is the worst of the three. At the beginning of November, agencies received letters stating that the “ADvantage Waiver,” a program funding home-based care for disabled individuals and seniors, would lose funding as of December 1. About 21,000 Oklahomans will lose the care that enables them to live independently. About 10,000, according to the Department of Human Services, will be forced to move into nursing homes—except that the state doesn’t have enough beds in nursing homes. So disabled Oklahomans are caught waiting to find out what will happen: Will they be trapped in their homes without services? Will they be forced into nursing homes or Hospitals? Will they be abandoned?
The problem, of course, is money. The conservative state has stripped away its tax base in a wave of Tea Party glee. Now it’s broke and, rather than raise taxes (a budget just failed to pass in special session), it is closing nursing homes and slashing Medicaid.
Iowa also has a budget crisis, if a less acute one than in the Sooner state. The state, like most, relies on contracts with private providers to provide services. In order to ease its revenue shortfall, the Department of Health has been trying to lower or hold costs steady. On October 31, the Department of Human Services revealed that AmeriHealth, a giant corporation that ran about 75 percent of the Medicaid services in Iowa, is going to stop working with the state. That’s not good, but the specific problem here is that DHS has known since the end of September and just didn’t tell anyone. Ignoring a problem, it turns out, doesn’t make it go away.