On Nov. 11, Gov. Jay Nixon and his stadium task force were in New York sharing their plan to build and fund a new football stadium in St. Louis. Meanwhile back in Missouri, people with developmental disabilities and their service providers were scrambling to respond to the 20 percent cut of restricted funding Gov. Nixon made in October.
Costs for services, critical to the daily survival of people with disabilities, continue to rise. Recognizing that, the Missouri General Assembly has worked tirelessly over the past three years in a bipartisan push to secure commensurate increases in funding for essential daily services. Yet over the same period, Gov. Nixon has undercut those efforts, diverting more than $21 million from some of society’s most vulnerable to other projects and interests.
Every January Gov. Nixon promises to use projects like Partnership for Hope to clear waitlists for services for people with developmental disabilities. And sure, several hundred people have since been removed from waitlists. What Gov. Nixon has NOT shared in his January speeches, however, is that individuals removed from one waitlist simply move to another. The agencies that provide services do not have the capacity to continue to serve new people while continuing to absorb $21 million dollars in budget cuts! The January promises of eliminating waitlists is a game of smoke and mirrors.
Special Neighbors, Inc., in Eastern Jackson County, has served people with developmental disabilities since 1978. It employs more than 130 people, and cares for 94 individuals, each with distinct support needs, daily routines, and plans and hopes for the future. Direct support agencies like Special Neighbors are nonprofits. They’re not looking to get rich—they’re simply trying to help people with disabilities have the best lives possible. When Gov. Nixon overrides legislators’ hard-fought efforts to make adequate funding available, Special Neighbors takes a direct hit. It, like other small agencies, cannot absorb $21 million in funding cuts, even with donations and support from the local community. Those cuts immediately impact daily-living resources for individuals served and their hard-working staff.
Thus far, agencies like Special Neighbors (those that still exist) have coped with cuts by using whatever emergency reserves they had to keep the doors open. Most have continued, like Special Neighbors, to do the right thing and provide quality services, even while their infrastructures and funding eroded. But Special Neighbors has reached the crisis point. It cannot ride out a 20 percent funding cut, and is not alone. Thousands of Missourians with disabilities will be impacted if funding is not restored.
Surely Missouri citizens with developmental disabilities and their families deserve at least as much of Gov. Nixon’s attention and dedication as some shiny new St. Louis stadium, do they not? Must these most-vulnerable citizens wait for service providers to close their doors before ranking as a priority? At this point, only one thing is sure: by October, Gov. Nixon’s January “promises” are anything but; for Missourians with disabilities, they are fairy tales.
Etta Mitchell, LMSW • Raytown
Executive Director, Special Neighbors, Inc.
In addition to her leadership role with Special Neighbors, Inc., Etta Mitchell is the mother of a daughter with a disability.
This letter to the editor appeared in the Raytown-Brooking Eagle; find it on the website here.