Budget Shortfall Impacts Needed Programs and Basketball for Cancer Research
The state’s most recent 4.3 billion dollar shortfall is putting the brakes on improvements to some programs that legislators say are desperately needed and the Governor and his staff as well as the House and Senate took to the basketball court last night to raise money for cancer research.
For almost 20 years Virginia has offered a limited number of what are called MR or Mental Retardation waivers…or what some people are now calling ID or Intellectual Disability waivers.
Each waiver costs the state approximately sixty-seven thousand dollars and provides Medicaid services to families who might not otherwise qualify. These services include everything from traditional one on one caretaker assistance and daycare services, to refitting houses for wheelchair accessibility. The key benefit of the waivers is that they allow many families to keep their disabled loved ones at home rather than having to place them in institutions for special care. These waivers are highly sought after and the waiting list to get them is in the thousands.
Freshman Democratic Delegate Robin Abbott of Newport News took the floor yesterday to speak of her personal experience with MR waivers. Abbott is the mother of a 30-year-old intellectually disabled son, Nicholas. He is missing over three fourths of his brain and does not have the ability to speak.
Abbott: Fortunately we were able to receive a waiver slot for Nicholas. For the first time in 24 years I was able to leave my house go to the grocery store to pick up a carton of milk without having to worry whether someone was there to watch this child. This is not the case for many families who often wait decades to find the peace of mind that their loved one will be taken care of. I understand that there are over 4,800 people waiting for waivers. That number grows every month. We can do better. We must do better.
Last year Republican Delegate Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights introduced a bill, which later passed, calling for the elimination of the MR waiver waiting list by 2018.
After having already been forced to cut 7 billion dollars in programs over two years, when Governor Kaine proposed his budget in December, he called for a freeze of additional MR slots, something the House Appropriations committee has amended.
Delegate Cox, who sits on the Appropriations committee explained.
Cox: Our appropriations committee on both sides of the aisle has made, I think, the number one priority over the last three or four years trying to do something about this waiting list. It is in excusable. One of the things that we really tried to do this year and we struggled with was, what can we do to continue that progress? One of the things we did was we lifted the freeze on the MR/ID waivers and that is just crucial. That freeze would have meant no new slots in 2011. Something I know we in Appropriations just couldn’t live with. We want to do a lot more, when we get out of this mess, that has got to be the top priority, because government does serve very valuable purposes.
Delegate Abbott noted that not only is assistance for homecare preferable to institutional care for families, it is also less expensive in the long run.
Abbott: My hope is that no family member will be forced to choose between a job and taking care of a family member because services are reduced. My hope is that parents don’t have to pray that the good lord takes their children before them so that they have peace in knowing that their child will not suffer in their absence. My biggest hope is that no one will have to wait decades to receive a waiver. Let us intend that the action we take in this chamber this week on our budget is only temporary and that we can and will build back services that are so desperately needed by the most vulnerable of our citizens.
Also yesterday evening legislators, lobbyists and the Governor and his staff gathered at the VCU Siegel Center for the annual Capitol Square Basketball Classic. While the legislators have been playing their game in one form or another for almost three decades…in recent years they have used it as an opportunity to raise money for the VCU’s Massey Research Cancer Center.
This year, two games were played. First the Governor and his staff faced off against a team of various lobbyists. The second game pitted the House against the Senate. After losing to the lobbyists 28-18, McDonnell reflected on his team’s performance.
McDonnell: We had some scrappy moments. We wanted to make sure that everybody had a little time on the court. I’m determined to be in shape for next year so I can equip myself a little bit better. But loo, we had a great time. We’ve only been in office 33 days. We haven’t had time to practice but next year we’ll be better. And it’s for a good cause. It’s a good chance to get out the cobwebs and everybody can pretend they’re still in shape for a night and have a little entertainment for the fans.
After helping to defeat his Senate rivals 40-27 Republican Delegate Chris Jones of Chesapeake, said the event helps build a sense of camaraderie in the different chambers across the aisle.
Chris Jones: Tomorrow we’re gonna have some fun on the floor. I might even yield to the gentleman from Henrico, Mr. Morrissey. It was a lot of fun tonight, everybody got to play and laugh at each other. Some of us over 50 don’t play like we used to. This is the second year that we’ve done it for the Massey Cancer center and the last tally I heard was about 15,000 dollars I think we were going to raise. And so next year we hope to double what we did this year.
While struggling with a challenging budget shortfall has at times created a tense environment this legislative session, last night provided a chance for all the members to come together in support of a cause they all could agree on.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.