Independent-living advocates rally on the Capitol steps

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2003

"Put the money back! Put the money back! Put the money back!" was the rally cry Friday of those advocating for the Legislature to restore funding for independent-living services for people with disabilities.

The rally aimed to persuade lawmakers to not cut $619,000 from the state budget for Center for Independent Living grants within the Department of Labor.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Kevin Meyer, head of the Finance Subcommittee for the Department of Labor, said $383,000 has been found within the department to help cover the proposed cut.

The cut represents a portion of the $5.1 million in federal, state and grant funding for independent-living centers across state, according to the Department of Labor.

The State Independent Living Council, which oversees the grants, supervises independent-living centers across the state, including Southeast Alaska Independent Living in Juneau.

The centers are nonprofit corporations that provide support and services to help those with disabilities live independently in their communities. A flier passed out at the rally noted that 1,805 Alaskans received independent-living services in 2003.

Similar rallies were held in Anchorage, Homer, Kotzebue, Sitka and Fairbanks, according to SAIL.

Joan O'Keefe, executive director for SAIL, said the cuts would result in the closure of centers in Ketchikan, Kotzebue, Wasilla, Seward and Kenai. Ten jobs would be cut if the funding is left out of the budget.

The cuts also would eliminate the executive director position for the State Independent Living Council.

"We just think it's penny-wise and pound-foolish both to cut our executive director, who has proven to have co-authored millions of dollars worth of grants to the state, as well as independent-living centers that save the state millions of dollars every year," O'Keefe said.

Greg O'Claray, commissioner of the Department of Labor, said the cut came as part of Gov. Frank Murkowski's charge for state entities to find reductions within their budgets.

The cuts are an attempt to reduce the draw on the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve, a savings account used to balance the state budget in recent years.

O'Claray noted that independent-living groups could regain some of the cuts through corporate donations and faith-based organizations.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy@juneauempire.com.



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