- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In a packed room in Frederick, Md., posters lined the walls highlighting individuals in the community who have developmental disabilities and the services they receive. Those who drove to the meeting followed bright yellow signs marked “Community in Crisis.”

Individuals carried hand-held stop signs that read, “No More Cuts to DDA.” Everyone in the room wore a stick-on name tag with the words “United FOR Community” above their names.

The people around the room, whether they wore military jackets, blue jeans, or business suits, gathered in Frederick on Wednesday night to fight budget cuts to the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA). Similar meetings have been held across the state, including in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The 2 percent cut in funding for the DDA’s community programs will equal a full week without services to those who use them, according to the posters on the walls. The posters show what services the individuals will lose.

Even without the budget cuts, there are more than 19,000 Maryland residents on the waiting list to receive services. Some have been on the waiting list for more than a decade, claimed several speakers who have been waiting for loved ones to receive care from the state.

“My daughter, Colleen, has been on the waiting list for 13 years,” said Arc of Frederick County President Margie Allen. “That’s one year shy of half of her life.”

“She can’t drive. She can’t take public transportation. She can’t call her friends on the phone. She can’t even make plans to get together with her friends. So what’s going to happen when I’m gone,” Mrs. Allen said in the meeting. “I’m talking about my own child, but I could just as well be talking about 18,999 others of my children.”

Laura Howell, executive director of Maryland Association of Community Services, said, “22,000 people and their families rely on nonprofits funded by the DDA to provide care and support.” She said that, because of budget cuts, care and support “is growing increasingly tenuous.”

A man said that the needs of his autistic son, and all people living with autism, “don’t affect an individual.”

“They affect a family,” he said.

Another man said that the services provided by DDA are invaluable and cannot be cut. Through them, his son, who has Down syndrome, has been able to acquire “a part-time job at a local grocery store, where he is earning an income and paying state taxes.” This statement was greeted by loud applause from the crowd.

Many of those who spoke had quit their jobs to care for family members who needed constant care and attention. And many expressed concern about what will happen to their loved ones when there is no one left to take care of them, especially if budget cuts to the DDA continue.

Maryland state Delegates Paul S. Stull, Frederick Republican; Richard B. Weldon Jr., Frederick and Washington counties independent; and Joseph R. Bartlett, Frederick Republican, were present.

“I’ve already gone on record to protect any further cuts to DDA,” Mr. Weldon said. He tried to explain to the crowd that Maryland delegates only have power to cut money from the budget. Only the governor can add funds.

Facing catcalls from the crowd, the delegates said they will do everything in their power to help those with developmental disabilities and their family members receive the services needed.

Also present were representatives for elected officials, including for Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Maryland Democrats.

“It’s important that families get a chance to say that what they’re asking for is not a lot, but it’s important,” said Joanna Pierson, executive director of the Arc of Frederick County. “It’s critical to look to other ways than [budget] cuts.”

Whatever they decide to do, many at the meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the way DDA is working.

“My way of thinking is, DDA is failing miserably,” Mrs. Allen said.

• Meredith Hulley is a freelance writer and photographer and University of Maryland student.

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