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Close to Home: Compassion is more than business as usual

Recently, this newspaper came out and opposed legislation I’ve authored to help Californians who are challenged by developmental disabilities. I am authoring Senate Bills 638 and 639 that together restore California’s vision for empowering people with developmental disabilities to maximize their potential. SB 638 would provide needed money and launch reforms to help give disabled citizens community services that are high-quality, sustainable and transparent, and SB 639 wold pay for those efforts by shutting down two expensive and outdated state-run institutions, known as developmental centers, in Orange and Sonoma counties.

Warehousing the developmentally disabled in large institutions is an anachronism, a vestige from decades ago when locking away those with disabilities was society’s preference. Sonoma Developmental Center opened its doors in 1891, when it was known as the California Home for the Care and Feeding of the Feeble Minded. As a society, we’ve come a long way since then. We recognize today that even those with severe disabilities benefit from being able to live in their own homes and communities, rather than institutions. In fact, for each of the roughly 1,000 people still residing in a developmental center, there are far more people with the same disability among the 279,000 living in a community home.

In recent years, our state’s community service providers have seen their funding frozen or cut, resulting in a loss of services to those truly in need of help. This is especially troubling these days with the dramatic rise in the number of children diagnosed with autism and the limited funds available to provide them the services they need. Meanwhile, the state continues to operate developmental centers in Orange and Sonoma counties at a cost of more than $500,000 per resident. The state must shoulder more and more of these costs in the future because the federal government has withdrawn partial funding from Sonoma Developmental Center due to its failure to meet health and safety standards. In fact, the state may lose more than $100 million in annual federal funding if additional developmental centers continue to fail in protecting the health and safety of residents.

In contrast, community service providers are paid an average of $17,000 per patient and deliver the kind of support that helps the developmentally disabled thrive in their own communities. While it’s true some disabled consumers are receiving community services at a cost higher than average, the state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst recently estimated that the most typical consumer who left a developmental center recently costs 64 percent less in the community than the half-million dollars spent per resident in the developmental centers. Additionally, the state could generate new revenues for community services by harnessing the value of the developmental center properties in a manner that respects both local and state goals and criteria.

Compassion comes in many forms. There is no need to throw dollars at failing institutions when there are proven, more compassionate ways to empower those residents through community services. I’m a proud fiscal conservative, and I believe that our state government can reduce waste while serving people better at the same time. My policy prescription for the developmentally disabled does just that. By shutting down unsafe, outdated state institutions and shifting the money to community services, those in need of state assistance will realize more opportunities to develop and chase their dreams. The people in need of community services want certainty. They deserve dignity. That’s why I wrote SB 638 and SB 639.

Jeff Stone, R-Murrieta, represents California’s 28th state Senate District.

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