California is at a crossroads. the Lanterman Act was groundbreaking legislation passed in 1969 that guaranteed the rights of people with developmental disabilities, including services and support in natural community settings, to the greatest extent possible.
The state system created under the Lanterman Act, relied upon by 330,000 Californians with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, has been chronically underfunded and is at a breaking point. According to a survey of 509 service providers across the state, our system has suffered a loss of 4,800 group home beds and an estimated loss of 5,000 day program slots since 2011. Given the average system growth of 5 percent annually, the system is falling apart.
The 150,000 dedicated staff members on the front lines, direct support professionals, work challenging jobs at low wages. A recent survey of 5,700 DSPs revealed 34 percent work 20 or more hours at a second job, in addition to their full-time job, to make ends meet. The skilled support they provide helping individuals learn self-care skills, find jobs, and live independently, deserve more than starting wages that are at or just above minimum wage. The low pay leads to unfilled positions that result in program closures, while high staff turnover also affects the quality of services provided to individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. One mother noted that her son has had 10 different support staff in 27 months.
Locally, Tri-Counties Regional Center relies on approximately 2,000 service providers to provide support and services for nearly 15,000 adults and children with developmental disabilities living in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. With low reimbursement rates set by the state, these service providers are stuck between a rock and a hard place — the goal to provide the highest quality services possible, but at a lower and lower cost. Each year reimbursement rates have failed to come close to keeping up with rising labor and operating expenses.
An 8 percent across-the-board rate increase is being called for by advocates to help stabilize this essential support system, which acts as a lifeline for California’s most vulnerable citizens. Joining with one unified voice are numerous stakeholders, including individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, the Association of Regional Center Agencies representing the state’s network of 21 nonprofit regional centers, along with the Lanterman Coalition, California Disability Services Association and the California Respite Association.
The legislature asked for a rate study of systematic changes for funding and services to be conducted over the past two years with public comment concluding April 5. It typically takes states that have completed similar rate reform efforts anywhere from two to five years to implement these rate reforms. People with developmental disabilities, their families and support staff cannot wait another budget cycle, let alone years. We need our state leaders to keep the promise of the Lanterman Act and support the 8 percent down payment on systems improvements today until the rate reform can be fully implemented.
• Patty Schulz, The Arc of Ventura County; Sharon Francis, Channel Islands Social Services; Kim Burt, Community Options Integrated Services; Amy Evans, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health; Craig Olson, Hillside House; Crystal Nevosh, NCI Affiliates/Achievement House; Harry Bruell, PathPoint; Andrew Day, People Creating Success; Charles Devlin, R & D Transportation; Kerry Firmwalt, SAGE Services; and Kathy Webb, UCP WORK.