For the last several weeks, employees of Independence Northwest have been working on an advocacy effort called The Dear Legislator Project as a response to deep cuts proposed to our services. The idea for the project is simple: Oregonians with disabilities and their supporters record short 2 – 3 minute videos directly addressing their legislators with their concerns and solutions. We’ve been recording and posting these videos on The Dear Legislator Project website and Facebook and sending them off to Representatives and Senators via email. The site has had over 2,000 unique hits in just five weeks.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an impromptu visit to my office from someone by the name of Kaaren Londahl. Karen, a woman with a developmental disability and recipient of brokerage services through a fellow agency, was accompanied by Megan, a support person from the provider organization On The Move Community Integration as well as two other folks supported by the agency.
We shuffled into the conference room, Kaaren handed me a large stack of papers and said “Larry, we have got to save our services now.” She explained that she has been receiving skills training and inclusion assistance through On The Move four days a week for the last couple of years. She had heard about the scheduled cuts and The Dear Legislator Project and wanted to be a part of the solution. She shared that she recently began visiting with friends, family, community members and businesses in her neighborhood. Kaaren explained to each person what these cuts would mean to her and to the community at large and asked them each to write a short statement to their Representative or Senator. In just a week, she had over seventy-five notes and signatures. “I went to Starbucks, Kitchen Kaboodle, my neighbors, everyone!” she says. “I just wanted to do it for everyone. It’s very important for people to have programs.”
In less than a week, Kaaren helped give voice to scores of people in her community. “My mom was an advocate and so I need to be one too, you know.” Who knows – without her efforts many of those folks may never have phoned their lawmakers, written a letter to express their concerns or raised their voice in protest of the cuts. I promised her I would forward on her concerns to her legislators and mail copies of her testimonial sheets to both Representative Lew Frederick and Senator Chip Shields.
“We can’t go backwards – we have to go frontwards,” she said. She’s right. Oregon faces the most significant cuts to developmental disabilities services we’ve ever seen.
- Brokerages are preparing to lose 10% of the money paid to employ case managers and an extension of a 10% loss to our administrative dollars on top of 100% loss of our quality assurance funding. This will result is poorer services and a weaker system.
- Brokerage customers who are without Medicaid (maybe because they are dealing with Social Security appeals or are recently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or Autism) will be completely dropped from our rosters on October 1st. That’s 800 Oregonians who will lose all services.
- Brokerage customers between the ages of 18 and 21 are set to lose 75% of their funding because there’s an assumption that schools will pick up the slack.
- Finally, the State is poised to cut 2,000 people from their day programs. This will reduce an already limited provider pool and remove options. Many people will likely lose their jobs and some provider agency will close their doors.
I’ve always admired the louder voices among us – folks who are willing stand on the steps of city hall and raise their voices until their faces turn red. I admire the well-spoken, those who are willing to put themselves out there for a cause and affect change through words. My problem is that I’ve got a pesky shyness that chokes me up every time I try to speak publicly. Things just don’t flow and I decided long ago that such efforts are best led by those with such gifts. The concept of The Dear Legislator Project gave me a way to get involved without being front and center. We all need forums that work for us. For some people, it’s getting up in front of hundreds of people and testifying, for others it’s recording the stories of others. For others still it’s collecting signatures and stories and concerns from neighbors and community members.
If you’ve yet to get involved, I urge you to do something this go round. We are at serious risk for significant changes to the way Oregon supports people with disabilities. Right now, we’re in the final stretch. In a couple of weeks we’ll know what will be cut and how deep.There’s still time to make a difference. Please consider sending a message to the Ways and Means Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if you just send a few lines, it sends a message.
“Fight for our programs so we can move on,” Kaaren said just the other day to me. It’s good advice. Fight – however it makes sense for you.
– Larry Deal, Executive Director of Independence Northwest