Response to Governor Haslam's State of the State Address
In his State of the State Address this evening, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam made a declaration of his commitment to caring for our most vulnerable citizens. Speaking to a joint session of the 108th General Assembly from the House Chamber and to all of us watching at home, he outlined his budget and policy priorities for the coming year.
The Tennessee Disability Coalition would like to respond to the impact some of these decisions will have on citizens with disabilities.
We appreciate the Governor's commitment to public education and plans to invest in our schools and teachers. The specific allocation to support the Tennessee School for the Deaf will mean improved outcomes for those students.
While Governor Haslam's proposal to reform public education has all of our children in mind, implementation must be fair and equitable for students with disabilities. If the goal is to provide more choice to students and families, then those choices must be offered to all families including those whose students have disabilities.
Governor Haslam spoke to expanding employment opportunities. Across the country, only 20.5% of Americans with disabilities are part of the workforce compared to 69.1% of Americans without disabilities. Many Tennesseans with disabilities want to work, and it is employment initiatives from the state that will help us gain a foothold in the workplace.
One of the barriers our community faces to finding quality jobs are the barriers to education after high school. Governor Haslam spoke to supporting higher education in our state. We hope that making this a priority will also mean expanding access to higher education for students with disabilities.
Governor Haslam commended Commissioner Jim Henry and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on the resolution of the lawsuit brought on behalf of former residents with disabilities against the Arlington Developmental Center. The $10 million which will go to fulfilling the agreement resolving this litigation will expand home- and community-based services for members of the suit and prevent new people from being unnecessarily institutionalized. For the State's Arlington Developmental Center Litigation Exit Plan go to: http://www.tn.gov/didd/newsroom/announcements/Exit%20Plan%20and%20Exhibits.pdf For the statement on the resolution of this litigation from the U.S. Department of Justice, go to: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/January/13-crt-038.html
Thought unmentioned in the Governor's Address, we would like to address an item from his written budget proposal. We are deeply concerned about a reduction proposed to the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Family Support Program. This cost-effective program keeps individuals with disabilities in their own homes and communities, serving over 4,000 this year. For the majority of these individuals this is the only assistance they receive and it keeps them from needing more expensive services. Without the Family Support Program, many would be forced to institutionalize their loved ones. It is an asset to the state and we will advocate alongside over 200 Family Support Program volunteers and thousands of families for the Family Support Program to receive adequate funding in the next fiscal year.
Governor Haslam spoke tonight to the reasons why our state has come out of a recession in a place of strength. He spoke to "taking advantage of our strengths and facing challenges head on." Our state will be strongest when it takes advantage of all that Tennesseans with disabilities have to contribute and meets the challenge of supporting our most vulnerable citizens as equal citizens.