Washington state legislators have ignored for decades children, youth and adults with developmental disabilities, failing to provide critical services to live full and thriving lives many take for granted.
Gov. Jay Inslee recognizes the problem and has a solution. In his proposed budget, the governor has prioritized funding to forecast how many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are requesting services from the Department of Social and Health Services, and how many people are eligible and need community and residential services.
State legislators must embrace this long-overdue change for Washingtonians with developmental disabilities by amending Senate Bill 5268 to include full forecasting for all home- and community-based waivers under the Developmental Disabilities Administration and pass the bill this session.
The problem is legislators refuse to include adults with developmental disabilities in critical budget forecasts that establish entitlement spending. These forecasts help set funding levels for vital services for everything from public education and Medicaid to child care and long-term care services for seniors in the community.
Developmental disabilities is one of the only social and human services left out of the forecast, which means nearly 12,000 Washington residents eligible for services are left stranded on a seemingly endless waitlist for critical services. Adults with developmental disabilities may be qualified for services, but they are not entitled to them — a crucial distinction because it means so many get nothing, and families carry the financial and emotional toll for the majority of their child’s life.
This is bad for the economy when parents drop out of the workforce to care for their child who cannot get child care or after-school care that meets their needs, and it extends when students leave public education and enter an adult system of supports that is inadequately funded. Moreover, it leaves adults with developmental disabilities without any level of agency, independence, autonomy, or way to contribute to local communities, which is achievable, deserved and a human right.
This is not a fight over an arcane budget process. Excluding adults with developmental disabilities from budget forecasts has painful and tragic results in real life.
When young adults with developmental disabilities graduate to nothing — no employment support, specialized residential care, or day programs — it means 21 years of dedicated public education goes without reward and results in wasted lives. Without opportunities to work and live outside their family, for many, crisis emerges for both the family and the individual, pushing other social systems never designed to provide aid and support to people with developmental disabilities.
Nearly 80% of adults with developmental disabilities live with their parents for most of their lifetimes. These past two years of COVID-19 have illuminated this tragedy when the sudden loss of a parent meant living with relatives or strangers for the first time, causing more trauma. Worse, it sometimes means a loved one winds up in hospitals ill-equipped to support and provide care.
Adults with developmental disabilities have been excluded from budget forecasts for so long we do not even know how many people need services now or in the future, and how much they need. During our state’s recession in 2008, we even cut case managers for the people waiting for services. Discovering the answers to these questions is the first step legislators need to take. Funding should follow immediately.
Contact your state legislator and demand that adults with developmental disabilities are included in budget caseload forecasts and support SB 5268 with amendments.