Families of disabled finally hopeful

In a recent address, and in testimony before the PA House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Dr. Val Arkoosh, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) made me feel optimistic.

As the brother of an elder with significant life challenges due to intellectual disability, autism, physical disabilities and dementia, I’ve spent most of my life waiting to hear state leaders speak of the concerns of people with ID/A as an actual important state issue.

As family members of people with disabilities, a lot of us were taught growing up that our family concerns didn’t always get high public discussion or carry much political clout. Our families were told to hold on, help is on the way, but then it might be years before that help would arrive.

This year we feel different.

Governor Josh Shapiro and Department of Human Services Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh have made the needs of the ID/A community a top FY 24/25 Budget Priority.

In his budget address, the Governor spoke passionately about families waiting years for services and the challenges of finding dedicated Direct Support Professionals, the backbone of community supports, willing to work for the abysmal wages set at insufficient state rates.

The Governor’s Budget recommendation of $216 million in state general funds, supplemented by an additional $266 million in federal funds, will bring significant stability to home and community-based services for individuals with ID/A. Plus the Administration’s allocation of $34 million to address the state’s 6000-person Emergency Crisis Waiting List and provide services as needed based upon eligibility is a lifesaver, particularly for elderly caregivers.

The Governor and the General Assembly need to join together, enact this year’s budget recommendation, but also agree to revisit ID/A funding annually through establishing a rate setting process keeps program funding consistent with inflationary costs.

As the budget process unfolds, it’s crucial for individuals and families impacted by ID/A to lend their voices to the conversation. By sharing their stories and advocating for their needs, they can help ensure that Governor Shapiro’s vision becomes a reality. Every voice matters in this fight for a more inclusive and compassionate Pennsylvania. Families across the Commonwealth will be calling, meeting, and zooming with their legislators to support the ID/A budget request, but also working with the Governor and the Administration to ensure that the ID/A sector does not fall into disrepair as it has been allowed to nearly collapse by inattention from the Commonwealth’s leaders.

The ID/A budget proposal is more than just an appropriation–it’s a beacon of hope for individuals with ID/A and their families across Pennsylvania.

Gary Blumenthal, Vice President of InVision Human Services of Wexford, Reading and Harrisburg, PA, is a former federal disability official serving in the Clinton and Obama Administrations. He is a former member of the Kansas House of Representatives.


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