Advocates fear service cuts will threaten independence of people living with disabilities

    A Pennsylvania advocacy organization is trying to stop state budget cuts that will diminish services for people with autism, intellectual disabilities or brain injuries.

    Government officials and social service providers have long touted the benefits of “community living” for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; living in the least restrictive environment possible, the opportunity to work and take part in neighborhood activities.

    Joe Leonard has two adult children in their forties who have severe autism. They both live independently, have jobs, and have been getting what’s called “community integration services.” Case workers check in with them regularly, and help them with specific challenges at work and at home.

    But according to advocates, these services may soon be cut drastically in Pennsylvania, and only be offered to individuals for a very limited time. The changes are outlined in a bulletin issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare. It states that going forward, community integration services will only be approved when a person has experienced a life change, or a change in their condition.  It says that these services have to have a clearly stated short-term goal. The bulletin states that services can not be offered for more than 13 weeks.

    Joe Leonard says this would be life-changing for his children. “Basically they would be faced with institutionalization, their impairments are sufficient that they require care, guidance, and supervision for their health and safety,” said Leonard.

    Leonard and his wife are both in their seventies and say they can not care for their children in their own home any longer.

    The Disability Rights Network has filed a formal complaint with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to prevent the budget cuts.

    Mark Murphy, CEO of the Disability Rights Network, says these ongoing services are essential for people who are living with autism or brain injuries.

    He says that cutting them will mean a step back for many people who are currently living independently. He adds that the cost of living in institutions is higher than providing services to people who are living independently.

    Representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare did not return repeated requests to comment on this issue.

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