Last Monday I had three experiences that typify how Disability Advocates of Kent County plays a critical role in our community. It is unfortunate at this time that we continue to be stressed by the unresolved FY 2020 budget as it relates to our state funding. In essence, Disability Advocates continues to be down $137,000 compared to last year‘s funding level and down an additional $100,000 which was approved by the House and Senate. (For the entire network of centers for independent living in Michigan (Disability Advocates’ generic title is “center for independent living”) this equates to $2.0 million and $1.5 million respectively.) All of this was redistributed away by the Governor on October 1, 2019 via an Administrative Board transfer.
As for the occurrences of last Monday, they went like this. First thing in the morning, I saw a longtime friend who is a community advocate and a champion of the rights of so many. With frustration in her voice, she simply asked if Disability Advocates could help a family member as he was having trouble with his Social Security benefits. “Of course,” I said and referred her to one of my coworkers. Second, later that morning I was meeting with a senior citizen from Montcalm County about her subsidized housing situation. Another coworker overheard this person’s need and she quickly went off and grabbed a list of housing options in that county that she has referred many people to through the years. Finally, a few of us went to meet with a community partner that afternoon to have a conversation with their social work staff about how we can work better together. The conversation focused mainly on our Occupational Therapy services and how we can help them help people stay independent and safe in their homes. At the end of the conversation a few of them asked, “Can you help with…?” In each instance we said, “Yes, we can, within our current capacity.”
The impactful work that our staff do each and every day came to the fore in three snippets of a typical Monday. In all of this, we work alongside people with disabilities so they can get to where they want and need to go. Unfortunately in light of the current unresolved budget situation we continue to operate with too much stress and anxiety. The net result of the Administrative Board transfer is that we have had to make several budget cuts. As one example, we have not been able to fill a position that was vacated at the beginning of our fiscal year —that’s 40 hours/week of capacity that is not available to work with persons with disabilities in our community. In the grand scheme of things, that may not seem like a lot. However, put yourself in the place of one of those three people last Monday and think how this lack of capacity could negatively impact your life.
What can you do to help?
I think the best thing you can do is send an email or letter, or make a phone call to the Governor and your legislators. When you contact them, take a moment first to thank them for their work in support of centers for independent living and Disability Advocates of Kent County because they have done so for many, many years (which makes this budget situation all the more curious). After saying thank you, tell them how Disability Advocates has impacted your life or how you have seen Disability Advocates impact other persons and our community. Finally, ask them when this budget impasse will be resolved.
Here’s how to find them:
Governor Whitmer: https://www.michigan.gov/…/0,9309,7-387-90498_90663—,00.h…
Your House member: http://house.michigan.gov/mhrpublic/frmFindaRep.aspx
Your Senator: https://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html
I am confident that with your help we will get to a resolution in the coming weeks. In such times, advocacy from friends and supporters like yourself never goes unnoticed or unappreciated.
Thank you for all of your support through the years and looking forward to a great 2020 with y’all!
Dave Bulkowski, Executive Director