Saturday, January 28, 2023 -
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Legislature responds to special needs

It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. Likewise, aid delayed is life decayed –– until last week, when a bipartisan group of Colorado state legislators passed bills to correct glaring inequities in the delivery of services to the developmentally disabled in this state.
Glaring, indeed. In an IJN article (Generations, June 27, 2007), Betty Lehman of the Autism Society of Colorado, herself the mother of an adult autistic son, cited these dismal statistics:Colorado ranked 48th in the nation for funding developmental disabilities; 49th in funding employment for people with developmental disabilities; and 50th in funding special education.

Last week’s legislation, carried by Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs and Sen. Moe Keller (D-Wheat Ridge) and backed by Gov. Ritter, will try to right  all three wrongs.

Under the proposal, the legislature will spend $6.6 million to address the needs of about 600 disabled adults on an estimated eight-year waiting list for services, with a total of $14.9 million budgeted to provide the disabled with job training, health care coverage and other badly needed programs. For too many years, parents of the disabled found themselves chained to impossible bureaucratic situations. Due to the long waiting list for treatment, a child who finally became eligible was often no longer a child. Depending on the benefits allowed, parents had to choose between institutionalizing their child or providing at-home care.  

Last summer, a legislative committee listened to story upon story of waking nightmares from parents. Said Gardner, “It’s almost impossible for anyone to sit and listen to parents and families who daily have challenges that are unimaginable to most of us and say, ‘No, I can’t help you.’”

Gardner’s three bills dedicate increased funding to eliminate the waiting list over five years; set aside state contracts for nonprofits with disabled employees; and establishes a study group to come up with ways for the disabled to work in state agencies.

This brave legislation does not solve all the problems faced by people with special needs and the families who love them. But the state legislature, by providing tangible help to this vulnerable population, has literally enacted hope. We say it’s about time –– and worthy of every human life restored.

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