- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

RICHMOND | Monday’s appeals to the Virginia legislature for more state funding were harder than any other that Delegate Clarence E. “Bud” Phillips has endured in his 20 sessions because so many of the families pleading for aid have lost jobs, savings and even homes, he said.

“This is the third recession since I’ve been in the General Assembly, and it’s the toughest, most brutal budgeting cycle I’ve ever seen, knowing that thousands of these people could lose their jobs,” Mr. Phillips, Dickenson County Democrat, said after two hours of sometimes tearful, sometimes angry public testimony.

With the state’s revenues at least $3 billion short of budgeted spending for the current two-year cycle, the legislature and Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, are resigned to deep cuts. Those cuts will affect core services such as health care and public schools that have been shielded in the past.

Even after a round of regional public hearings across Virginia two weeks ago, 165 witnesses signed up to speak at Monday’s hearing on Capitol Square.

Many were families of people who suffer profound or severe mental disabilities and, if not for state aid to help pay for care in or near their homes, face a lifetime far away in a state-run institution.

Part of the savings Mr. Kaine recommends for the mental health, mental retardation and substance abuse services budget calls for shuttering obsolete residential care centers for the intellectually disabled in Chesapeake, Staunton and Marion. It also calls for scaling back an increase in funding for home care of severely mentally retarded people as an alternative to institutional care, something known in government parlance as “MR waivers.”

The biennial budget passed last spring calls for an additional 600 MR waivers in the second year of the budget, beginning July 30. But a recession that has eaten deeply into tax collections forced Mr. Kaine to reduce that increase to 400 waiver slots.

Vincent Smoral recently lost a job and just found a new one and saw his investments melt during the Wall Street collapse last fall. He said state support is more necessary than ever in caring for his daughter, Sam, 20.

“The program we’re on has been a godsend for us, but that ends when she turns 21 and at that point, we have very few options,” said Mr. Smoral, 60, an information technology professional from the Richmond suburb of Henrico County.

What the Smorals refuse to do is surrender their daughter to an institution, even if they have to come up with the tens of thousands of dollars a year for skilled, in-home nursing care for her.

“We’ll do it all on our own if we have to. We have no intention of putting her there,” Mr. Smoral said.

Even if the MR waiver program is not slowed for fiscal 2010, the waiting list is so long that the Smorals could wait a dozen years to land a slot for Miss Smoral.

They heard one family tell the budget writers Monday how their son, 19, was still waiting for a waiver slot after 14 years.

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