June 17, 1997 in City

Disabled Children’s Families Will Get Less Aid Reductions Coming In Both Federal, State Programs

Associated Press
 
Tags:budget

Hundreds of Washington state families caring for developmentally disabled children at home are facing cuts in government aid that helped make home care possible.

Over the next eight months, state and federal payments to about 3,000 families with disabled children will be cut.

The severity of the cuts varies.

For example, rules for Supplemental Security Income were changed last year by Congress during welfare reform - retaining benefits for those with physical disabilities, but cutting them for children with behavioral problems out of concern that some families were cheating the system.

The Social Security Administration has advised 2,800 Washington families their benefits are in jeopardy, though the cuts once set for August now may not be imposed until February.

The state Department of Social and Health Services told the Legislature that most children losing SSI benefits - they average $368 a month - will find some other forms of government aid.

“Somewhere, somehow, kids will end up in some kind of program,” said DSHS budget director Wolfgang Opitz.

“We won’t believe that until we see the data that says that,” said Cassie Johnston of Olympia, western regional coordinator for Family Voices, an advocacy group for special-needs children.

The state also is cutting benefits some families receive through the Medicaid personal-care program - from $862 to $564 a month, a 34 percent reduction. At Gov. Gary Locke’s request, DSHS cut $2.4 million from that $773 million program - money that went to 375 families caring for disabled adults at home.

“It’s relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, although I know it’s not minor for those who get it,” said DSHS spokesman Gordon Schultz.

“That’s a real loss for these parents,” said Tim Hornbecker, executive director of the King County chapter of The Arc, an advocacy group for the disabled.

The Giorgettis, of Renton, were among the families hit by that cut.

Lew Giorgetti had worked two jobs for 10 years so his wife, Julie, could stay home with their mentally retarded daughter, Toni, now 18 but with the living skills of a toddler.

They signed on with the program in February, and Lew gave up his 16-hour workdays. But after just five months, they were informed the $862 personal-care benefit was being reduced - possibly in July.

“They did a good job of supporting us - until now,” said Julie Giorgetti. “It just makes me angry. There can’t be that many of us. It can’t be that big of a deal.”

Phyllis and Jack Schlag in Auburn also face that cut - and they worry about the $512 monthly SSI payment their 30-year-old son, Jack Schlag III, receives. They looked into homes for him, but the places they liked didn’t want their son because his care is so demanding. He can’t talk and must wear diapers. Walking is difficult and his eyesight is poor. Just keeping food on a spoon is a challenge.

So Jack III stays home.

The state payment “is basically my income,” Phyllis Schlag said. Caring for their son “is my full-time job.”

And like all such parents, the Schlags, now in their 50s, worry about who will care for their son when they’re gone.

Still, for many of these people there was never any question that the tight money and hard work is worth it. The Giorgettis say they have never doubted their decision.

“Because she’s my child,” Mrs. Giorgetti said.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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