Hundreds of disabled people, family members and advocates marched to the Capitol Annex this afternoon and rallied outside to oppose cuts in state services to the disabled. "I'm just like everybody else - I want to have my own apartment, I want to work, I want to help make it better for the next generation of people with disabilities," Mike Smith, 45, of Moscow told the crowd from his wheelchair, struggling with the words. Smith, who was born with severe cerebral palsy but works and lives on his own, has such difficulty speaking that a helper then reread his speech for him so everyone could understand it. People in the crowd held signs saying, "No Medicaid Cuts," "Our Community Includes ME," "Services keep me home" and "Do you enjoy living in your own home? So does my son!" One woman held a toddler bundled in pink, along with a sign saying, "I am the face of the governor's holdbacks."
Two legislators, Republican Rep. Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls and Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, addressed the crowd and said they'll work to minimize the impact of the cuts. To cheers, LeFavour said, "I want to be very clear that it is in no way acceptable to balance Idaho's budget on the backs of people with disabilities."
Several hours earlier, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, on which both McGeachin and LeFavour serve, had voted unanimously to make Gov. Butch Otter's 4 percent holdbacks permanent - the very cuts that are forcing cuts in treatment hours to people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. But advocates said they hope that when the House and Senate Health & Welfare committees review rules for implementing the cuts, they'll soften the effect by making them temporary and allowing for exceptions. Katherine Hansen with the Idaho Association of Developmental Disability Agencies said in some cases, a cut in treatment hours may actually cost the state more, because of the worsening it would bring in the condition of a particular patient.
McGeachin said she addressed the rally to "acknowledge the importance of home and community based services," saying, "I wanted them to know how important it was for them to be here and let us know how these decisions affect their lives." She said, "I'm going to do all I can to try to minimize the impact. ... Our job is to try to minimize the impact of the holdbacks on this particular population."
At the end of the rally, Angela Lindig, chair of the State Independent Living Council, told the crowd of more than 400, "Go talk to your legislators," and the group streamed into the Capitol Annex.