Corbett Reveals Plan To Expand Pennsylvania Disability Services

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In a glimpse of his upcoming budget address, Gov. Tom Corbett announced a proposal likely to enjoy broad support: additional funding to help people with intellectual disabilities live in their communities.

Speaking before advocates and family members Wednesday, Mr. Corbett said the budget he will propose early next month would provide home and community-based services to about 1,200 adults who have an intellectual disability, such as Down syndrome or autism. The governor and his secretary of public welfare, Gary Alexander, described the proposed addition of nearly $20 million as part of an ongoing effort to direct state resources to those who most need them.

“To me those people should be at the front of the line when we’re talking about state and federal government helping people who can’t take care of themselves,” Mr. Corbett said. “These people go first.”

Advocates said services can allow people with intellectual disabilities to live safely and engage in their communities through work or volunteerism, while providing caretakers with occasional respite. Nancy Murray, president of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh, described the funding as “a godsend” for families in need of services.

About 15,000 are waiting for services statewide, with about 1,400 in Allegheny County, according to the administration.

“If we keep adding 1,100 a year, we will get to the point where we can eliminate the waiting list,” she said.

The funding proposed by the governor would come on top of an addition this year of $17.8 million to reduce the wait for services. That money was added during the legislative budget process last year, after Mr. Corbett’s initial proposal, but the administration praised its inclusion in the final spending plan. The addition allowed approximately 1,100 people to receive services, the administration said.

Continued reduction of the waiting list appears to have broad legislative support. Representatives of House and Senate Republicans and House Democrats said their members had pushed to increase funding last year and would welcome further reducing the wait for services.

“It will be an important priority,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods. “In looking at all of the budget items, I’m sure it will be of significance to many members in our caucus.”

Mr. Corbett, a Republican, declined to say whether his budget would increase, reduce or maintain funding for social services as a whole. His proposal Feb. 5 will kick off a budget process that in the past two years has concluded June 30, the final day of the fiscal year.

If the proposed increase becomes part of the final budget, plans currently under consideration by the administration would provide services to 500 adults on an emergency waiting list and 700 recent graduates who can no longer receive special education services.

John and Mary Ruth Murdoch of Northampton County said they had been told since their 21-year-old daughter, Annie, was young that there would be no assistance once she left school, as she will this year. The governor’s announcement inspired them with sudden hope that their daughter might receive the assistance necessary to hold a job.

“We’ve spent 20 years believing that there was simply no hope,” Mr. Murdoch said. “This is absolutely stunning. This was simply not in the realm of possibility.”

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