People of New Hampshire can’t wait

At age 21, after school graduation, services are not guaranteed for an individual with developmental disabilities. Fortunately, New Hampshire historically has a great partnership between parents of those with disabilities and policymakers. This assures that resources for continued services are appropriated in the state budget for those 21 and older.

In 2007, a major event occurred. Local legislators, Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Democrat from Nashua and Rep. Peter Batula, a Republican from Merrimack, championed this cause through Senate Bill 138. The bill required that appropriate funds for continued care be placed in the budget every two years.

Individuals with developmental disabilities and their families fought hard for the bill’s passage. Their advocacy was successful. Gov. John Lynch signed SB 138, thus assuring that the Legislature would appropriate funds, in every budget cycle, necessary to provide services to those with developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, shortly after this, the Great Recession hit. The Legislature created an amendment during this time that guaranteed funding only if the state budget had what the Legislature considered adequate resources. Since then, some level of funding has been given to provide continued service to those who turn 21. The funds do not cover all individuals who need services, thus a “waiting list” is now in place.

The New Hampshire state budget is created every two years. During this last legislative session, the legislature did appropriate new dollars to support people waiting for services. We, and the families we serve, are grateful. However, the number of individuals needing services continues to grow. As of January of this year, 170 individuals with developmental disabilities are waiting for services in our state.

In the Gateways Community Services region alone, we have 17 individuals who are currently not getting served, and 26 more who will need our services in 2019. We are working with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, communicating these numbers and our concerns for those who need service.

Although there is no guarantee, Gateway’s Community Services staff try to reassure individuals and their families that we are working to get funding. The reality is that after turning 21, they may have to wait. This is a statewide problem; it is reported that up to 316 individuals across New Hampshire with developmental disabilities may go without service next year.

In the last few months, we’ve continued to discuss this issue with local legislators, Reps. Rosenwald and Mariellen McKay and Sens. Bette Lasky. Last week, Rep. Rosenwald tried to bring forth legislation to address the waiting list funding, so the issue could be debated by both Republican and Democratic leadership. The Republican leadership of the New Hampshire House refused to allow the amendment to move forward. This should never be a partisan issue!

We are hopeful that Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, will propose an amendment to Senate Bill 590, to increase resources this year to help support individuals currently waiting for services. Individuals need support and services. Caring for people is neither a Democratic or Republican issue, rather it is an issue for all of us.

Remember, “People can’t Wait.”