The governments grudging commitment of extra money for services for mentally handicapped adults falls far short of whats needed and shows inept handling of an important responsibility.
The government provided an extra $8.9 million for Community Living B.C. Wednesday in response to a public outcry over sharp cuts to services for some of the most vulnerable people in our province.
Obviously, any increase is welcome. But the increase is barely one per cent of the Crown corporations budget, and far short of the $85 million needed to restore per-client funding to the level in 2005, when CLBC was created. Even with the increase, the provinces contribution this year will increase 1.8 per cent, despite a 5.1 per cent increase in people with developmental disabilities who require services.
CLBC executives said the money is needed to cover urgent health and safety needs of the Crown corporations clients.
That is an admission of failure. It is not difficult to forecast the need for services. The government knows how many young people with developmental disabilities, currently supported by the childrens ministry, will turn 19 and rely on CLBC. It can predict current clients needs.
Yet barely five months into the fiscal year, the agency does not have enough money to cover urgent health and safety needs. That indicates either a basic lack of competence in budgeting, or a failed attempt to cut spending at the expense of people with disabilities and their families. Neither should be acceptable to British Columbians.
In opposition, the Liberals were strong advocates of needs-based budgeting for agencies and ministries that provide services to vulnerable British Columbians. They argued the starting point for the budget process should be establishing the amount of money required to provide the needed services. In the case of CLBC, those include group home accommodations, residential supports, day programs, job programs and help for families providing continuing care for adult children unable to live on their own.
Government might not be able to afford to meet those needs. But the information would allow rational, informed decisions on what services would be denied. That has not happened. CLBC officials will not, or cannot, even say how many people are on waitlists for services which they need, but it is unable to provide.
CLBC says its goal is make the best use of the money available, reducing the average amount spent on each client while providing the most effective supports. Some people currently in group homes, a costly form of residential care, for example, could lead fuller lives in a private home, at lower cost to government. Some agencies providing services are being asked to accept funding cuts, or lose their contracts.
Those are laudable goals. But the reality, according to families and the B.C. Association for Community Living, is far different. People with disabilities are being forced from group homes they have thrived in for years. Programs that let them work and earn minimum wage, or have activities outside the home, are being cancelled. Parents, many aging themselves are facing overwhelming new demands because of service cuts.
The problems are particularly acute for the 550 young people who will turn 19 this year and find supports slashed or nonexistent as CLBC says it cant afford to help them to the same quality of life and opportunities they have had through the teen years.
This situation, whether caused by moral blindness to our responsibilities or ineptitude, is just wrong. And a budget increase targeted only at urgent health and safety needs falls far short of our obligation and ability to support people with developmental disabilities and their families.
© Copyright 2013