Candidates for governor of Pennsylvania pledged Thursday to support services for people with intellectual disabilities despite the serious budgetary issues facing the commonwealth.
Attorney General Tom Corbett, State Rep. Sam Rohrer, and Auditor General Jack Wagner pledged to work with organizations such as PAR (Pennsylvania's Service Network for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities) to ensure people with disabilities continue to receive state support.
The candidates' stated commitment to continuing support for people with disabilities comes as Gov. Rendell's budget threatens an estimated $17 million cut off in state and federal funding for community mental retardation services.
"Services for people with an intellectual disability are life-long, and have one funder - the state, whose dollars are matched by federal Medicaid funds," said Shirley Walker, President and CEO of PAR. "We were eager to hear how these gubernatorial candidates envision the state's commitment to these essential services, as well as how our services fit into their plans for economic and workforce development in Pennsylvania."
All of the candidates said that supporting individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities would be a priority in their administrations. "Pennsylvania has a long history of leadership in this country" with regard to supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Attorney Gen. Tom Corbett told participants at PAR's spring conference held at the Harrisburg Hilton. "They should enjoy all the rights of citizenship."
Corbett won applause in expressing his commitment to helping people with autism and intellectual disabilities find meaningful lives outside of institutions.
"People with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be supported to live in their own homes and in their own communities . . . not in institutions," he said. Agencies that support people with intellectual disabilities need to be able to rely on a predictable source of income from the state, their only source of funding, Corbett said.
Later in the day, Auditor General Jack Wagner echoed that sentiment saying, "There is a need for you to be recognized in the budgetary process," and called on PAR to continue to be strong advocates.
All of the candidates warned that the state's precarious financial situation could jeopardize many state programs and would require a serious look at which organizations will continue to receive state funding. But State Rep. Rohrer issued the bleakest assessment, warning that cuts would have to be made in many state services. Pennsylvania is not bankrupt like California, Rohrer said, "but we're close."
"We're going to have to reduce services, and we're going to have to ask just who are we really supposed to meet the needs of," Rohrer asked"We will have to sit down with groups such as yours (PAR)," Rohrer said, to figure out how to efficiently support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by reducing waste and redundancy in state government. "The people PAR members serve are people who should be supported by government," said Rohrer.
All of the candidates said the key to helping people with disabilities lies in improving the economic climate of the state by attracting new businesses and industries. Organizations that provide services to people with disabilities say the high unemployment rate has drastically impacted the abilities of such people to work and lead productive lives. They urged the candidates to help create jobs for people with autism and intellectual disabilities.
Auditor General Jack Wagner said serving people with autism and intellectual disabilities would be important to him as governor, noting that a member of his family has autism. Referring to people with disabilities and their services, he said, "Budgetary issues directly affect you and I can't think of another class of people that are more important." He further noted that by going through every budget item with a scalpel, those savings could be put toward services to people with intellectual disabilities and autism.
For more information or to set up an interview with PAR, contact Gabrielle Sedor firstname.lastname@example.org, 717-979-8143.
**NOTE: As a 501(c)(3) organization, PAR complies with IRS rules and guidelines regarding political activities and gubernatorial forums and PAR does not oppose or support any gubernatorial candidates but provides an opportunity for all to meet with our membership and the community.
PAR is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to improving the quality of supports and services provided to people living with autism and individuals with intellectual disabilities. As an educational organization, PAR provides valid, reliable research and information as a service to its members and the community at large.
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