Arc of Tri-Cities pleads with lawmakers for funding

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerMarch 5, 2009 

OLYMPIA -- Chris Emery's frustration shows when he talks about being shut out of jobs because he has Down syndrome.

His face scrunches up, and he even shakes his fist as he describes how he's been fired repeatedly because he didn't catch on fast enough.

What Emery wants is a job coach -- someone to be with him and not just explain how something is done, but show him so that he can succeed like anyone else.

"I want my own job, my own work," Emery said. "I want to be able to grow up more, be responsible. You know what a job means to you. It's the same thing to me."

But Emery, 33, of Kennewick, worries that the state may cut money for programs that help people with developmental disabilities find and keep jobs.

He was one of about 20 people from The Arc of Tri-Cities who traveled to Olympia on Wednesday to plead with lawmakers to preserve money for their programs as the Legislature struggles with a projected $8.5 billion revenue shortfall through 2011.

"I'm not forcing them to do it, but it would be great," Emery said of keeping the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation's job coach program going.

As the group talked to Tri-City legislators, including Rep. Larry Haler and Sen. Jerome Delvin, both Richland Republicans, jobs were at the top of their list of concerns.

Billy Max Hughes, 51, of Richland, said he works part time at Goodwill but needs another part-time job to supplement his income so he can continue to live on his own, as he has since he was 26.

Hughes said he has been brain damaged since birth. Growing up in the 1960s, he was placed in special education programs that he said didn't prepare him to work once he finished school.

"I didn't learn enough. They didn't teach me," he said.

Like Emery, he fears money will be cut from programs that train people with developmental disabilities to work.

"Without the money ... the slower people are gonna be left in the dirt," Hughes said.

Delvin said it's a priority for him to try to preserve work programs for people with developmental disabilities, especially those who are leaving high school.

"It's important they have an opportunity to work and be productive," Delvin said.

Haler said what concerns him more is a proposal in Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget to shift people with developmental disabilities from state-funded medical care to the federal Medicaid program. The shift is intended to reduce costs to the state by relying on more federal money to provide medical services.

But Haler said because Medicaid eligibility is based on income, people with developmental disabilities from middle-income families will lose their medical care.

"Medicaid doesn't work for them," Haler said. "The governor wants it to work, but it doesn't. ... Middle-class families will not be able to get those funds because they don't meet the income guidelines."

Haler criticized Gregoire's budget proposal as having the wrong priorities, which he described as investing in salmon recovery and more employees for the Department of Ecology while cutting education and human services.

"It throws the developmentally disabled and the people most vulnerable in our population under the bus in favor of saving fish and trees," he said.

The Legislature is expected to adopt a budget for the 2009-11 biennium by the end of April.

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