In the 2018 legislative session, something wonderful happened. A policy was proposed, the public responded and made its position heard, and our state leaders listened and responded by addressing the policy collaboratively.
The policy in question was a proposed $18 million budget cut for FY 2019 to community services for Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The response was a day of action and rally at the State House, over 1,300 letters to state legislators and the governor, and countless one-on-one conversations between people in our community and the people who make policy. When all this happened, we were inspired to see all three of our state’s leaders: Governor Gina Raimondo, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Senate President Dominick Ruggiero step up and show their commitment to Rhode Islanders with disabilities.
They heard our message-that Rhode Island had not kept up with adequately investing in our state’s community I/DD support agencies, and that the system as a whole was at a tipping point. They recognized that in restoring those funds, the state was making up for lost time and covering the costs of services that had long gone under or unfunded.
The State of Rhode Island committed to the mandate that all Rhode Islanders with disabilities have the opportunity and supports to work in their community when it entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Department of Justice in 2014. This commitment unquestionably requires a massive systems transformation. In fact, the transformation is not just needed to meet the settlement’s employment goals, but also to ensure people with disabilities are able to live equitable and inclusive lives in their communities.
We are lucky to have the support of champions in the legislature like Sen. Louis DiPalma and Rep. Teresa Tanzi who recognize that these changes are not insignificant, and our state’s leaders have recognized that for a time this will require additional investment. They committed to such transformational investment at our May 23, 2018 rally at the State House.
We know that in addition to the positive impact these changes will have on the people we support, they will also ultimately save RI money over time. With the patchwork funding of the last decade, we have seen a rise in hospitalizations and lack of access to services that ultimately costs the taxpayers more on the back end. With more adequately funded and therefore proactive supports, we can invest in preventative care and the clinical specialists that many of our agencies sorely need but often struggle to attract due to low pay.
We are inspired by the collaborative spirit of our state leaders, brought about by the robust advocacy from our community. We are thankful that Governor Gina Raimondo, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggiero, and many members of the general assembly took leadership this year. We look forward to working with them towards more collaborative solutions in 2019.
This op-ed was jointly authored and signed by the executive directors of 23 agencies that provide supports to approximately 3,600 Rhode Islander’s with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities and their families, and that employ more than 5,000 Rhode Islanders.