ANNAPOLIS – Advocates for the disabled have deemed Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s 2002 budget illegal, saying it violates a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that it’s discriminatory to force disabled individuals to live in institutions.
As many as 4,000 Marylanders will continue to “live against their will” in nursing homes and institutions because the governor didn’t allocate enough money to help the disabled transition into the community, said Phil Fornaci, executive director of the Maryland Disability Law Center.
Glendening’s own Office for Individuals with Disabilities wrote a report two years ago setting up a five-year fiscal plan to downsize institutions and integrate disabled individuals into the community.
However, in his operating budget released Jan. 16, Glendening only allocated one-fifth of the report’s recommendation for the 2002 budget, said Fornaci. The governor needs to put $25 million more in the budget to comply with the recommendations and to make up for last year’s funding deficiencies, he said.
“Everyone who wants to leave a state institution or nursing home has a civil right to be served in the community,” Fornaci said. “There’s a lot of good stuff in the governor’s budget – just not for the disabled.” That lack of “good stuff” could leave the state open to legal ramifications. “The state is at risk for being sued,” said Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Georges C. Benjamin in a budget hearing last week. “The key here is to get an effective plan.” Still, there is a chance that the governor will provide additional money through a supplemental budget. On Monday, the Community Access Steering Committee – a task force set up by the governor to provide fiscal recommendations on community integration programs – sent a formal report to the governor asking him to honor the recommendations in the 1999 report. “We’re asking him to put in the full funding. I can’t tell you whether the governor will honor this recommendation. But there’s usually at least one supplemental budget a year,” said Tracy DeShields, a director at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “We put in our request and we’ll wait and hope we get the funding we need.” The governor “is still reviewing” the recommendations he just received, said his spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. Although Fornaci is adamant about the $25 million figure, DeShields said the department isn’t sure how much money would have to be supplemented. There’s also hope for the advocates in the form of MiCASSA “my house” legislation pushed by Delegate Jim Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, and Delegate Mark Shriver, D-Montgomery, as well as the Maryland Coalition for Civil Rights of People with Disabilities. The legislation would allow the disabled to receive services in their home, rather than nursing homes. “Maryland is not in compliance with the Olmstead decision,” said Shriver. “We must address the crisis that exists.” He said disabled individuals have the right to “live in the community and be full and participating members in the community.” “If the state doesn’t act this year, we’re not only in violation of the Olmstead ruling,” Hubbard added, “but we’re also vulnerable to legal challenges which will cost the taxpayers money.” -30- CNS-1-30-01