I have had some time to reflect on Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Greg O'Claray's proposal to cut his department's spending by eliminating funding for Independent Living Services and other programs benefiting people with disabilities. I am still outraged. Mr. O'Claray's proposed cuts to spending, in his department, only eliminate programs providing services to people with disabilities.
Independent living centers provide services to people and families with disabilities. The services are designed to promote independence; people with disabilities living in their own homes and in communities of their choice. All of our services are controlled by the consumer. Our boards of directors and employees comprise a majority of people with disabilities. Besides the services that all independent living centers provide, in Alaska we are also required, by the council that oversees independent living center activities, to spend 10 percent of our budgets directly on consumers of our services. The direct spending provides things consumers need to live independently, but can't get anywhere else. Independent living centers also move people from nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other long-term care facilities back into the community. These transition services directly impact state spending.
In 2002 the centers in Alaska moved 43 people from and diverted another 145 people away from nursing homes. Since the average annual cost of nursing home care is $100,000 per person in Alaska, independent living centers saved Medicaid $16 million last year. The $619,100 Mr. O'Claray plans to save by cutting independent living is only 10 percent of what independent living centers saved the state last year alone. The saving to the state in FY 2003 was $6 million (state match to the $16 million Medicaid cost).
Mr. O'Claray was asked to present scenarios and impact statements representing 5 percent and 10 percent cuts in spending. He chose to cut only spending that directly impacts the lives of people with disabilities. If he had proposed cuts in spending that impacted only one religious or ethnic minority, the condemnation would have been swift and universal. There are some proposals that are so outrageous they do not merit even a moment of consideration. Mr. O'Claray's plan to meet his mandate to cut spending by targeting the disability community in Alaska is one such proposal.
All of you interested in efficient use of limited government funds, please write or call the commissioner, the governor, and your legislators. Tell them that if spending must be cut, let it be cut fairly, not disproportionately. The Division of Labor and Workforce Development has a budget of more than $120 million. Surely there are programs included in that budget that can be cut without unfairly burdening one single population of Alaskans.
• Jim Brady is an independent living and accessibility specialist working for a center on the Kenai Peninsula.