February 5th marked another busy annual conference where Independent Living Center representatives, employees and advocates assembled at the capital on behalf of individuals with disabilities across the state of New York. RCAL joined a coalition of Centers under the coordination of the New York Association on Independent living to send a clear and urgent message to members of the New York State legislature and the Cuomo Administration of the importance of maintaining community integration and civil rights of individuals with disabilities during the ensuing budget negotiations.
On the agenda were numerous legislative items ranging from housing issues addressing discrimination by landlords based on an individuals source of income or incorporating inclusive design/visibility features in new residential housing facilities receiving government assistance for construction to providing tax credits to businesses that hire individuals with disabilities or requiring transportation companies to have a minimum number of their vehicles made accessible. NYAIL also advocated its budget priorities that included increased funding for affordable housing, implementation of the Balancing Incentives Program which comes along the heels of the Affordable Care Act and provides states with enhanced federal Medicaid funds to help New York shifts towards providing 50% of its appropriate resources towards community-based services.
Several other policy changes being discussed within the Governors administration and associated departments include the reduction of $120 million to the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities which advocates stood strongly against. Members of the disability community and their families attended several hearings leading up to lobby day to testify on the impacts these funding decreases would have on the population OPWDD serves, many of whom were there themselves to testify. Hearings included testimony from individuals who had experiences of living in underserved group homes or similar positions and many expressed that the benefits of providing increased community-based supports and services has been central to maintaining their rights and well-being by having the resources necessary to live more independent lives. Many also highlighted the destructive consequences cutting vital services would have on vulnerable populations.
Many advocates and groups spent the ensuing weeks following up with legislators and writing letters to key administrative officials to express their support or disapproval for a broad range of disability related policies that NYAIL has pushed for many years now. Budget negotiations with the Assembly and Senate were lengthy and the compromises were tough with both sides attempting to achieve the most feasible plan within our current financial reality.
Negotiations ended as the Assembly and Senate debated and passed a final budget at the tail end of the last week of March prior to Easter. Among the positive results many in our community were happy to see was a $30 million reduction in the proposed cuts to OPWDD, softening the blow that will no doubt have an impact on the way the agency deals with this year’s budget. The Legislature also agreed upon an executive proposal of a $1 billion affordable housing project funded over five years to create 14,300 affordable housing units statewide. In addition, the program responsible for providing financial assistance to property owners to make dwelling units accessible to low-and moderate income persons with disabilities known as Access to Home will receive level funding at $1 million.
Medicaid managed care recipients also claimed a victory after the executive branch agreed upon the expansion of a policy known as “prescriber prevails” which gives doctors more control over prescriptions. Specifically, the budget lets prescriber-prevails rules apply to eight additional drug classes for Medicaid managed care recipients. Also relating to managed care was the adoption of a managed long-term care ombuds program to provide individual and systemic advocacy assistance for seniors and people with disabilities in managed care. Medicaid recipients were also at risk of having “optional” services eliminated that would have covered an array of vital services from occupational/physical therapy and home care to specific medications. That proposal was defeated by advocates and eliminated from the final budget negotiations.
To date, NYAIL has until around June 20th to continue to advocate on behalf of its 2013 policy priorities. Meanwhile a reasonable success has been made in establishing an integrated set of policy that further the maintenance of community-based services in a variety of forms and programs that are key to keeping individuals in their homes and receiving quality care. The state has a long way to go in reforming how and where it spends its Medicaid dollars and we in the independent living movement hope to expand upon our success in convincing government that money put towards making people more independent will save the state money in the long run as more and more individuals gain the opportunity to become active members of society, engaging in employment, and receiving fair and supportive educational opportunities, progressing away from the old paradigm of restrictive, costly and bias institutionalized services.