By RACHEL LEVEN
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 26, 2010) - Hundreds of disabilities advocates walked or bused from the Loews Annapolis Hotel to the General Assembly Thursday urging the legislature to partially fund at least 90 percent of people on the state disabilities services waiting list.
Advocates also pushed for a 10-cent per drink alcohol tax that would fund disabilities services and other programs.
"My daughter was on the (Developmental Disabilities) waiting list for years and years ... I want to have that assurance in my heart that there will be funding so that there will be advantages for her," said Shirley Baker, the parent of a disabilities service user. "She deserves a quality life like you and I do."
At least four of the seven bills advocates highlighted on Developmental Disabilities Day related to the waiting list. Many attendees said the bills could solve the ongoing problem of underfunding for disabilities.
The Lorraine Sheehan "10 cents makes sense" alcohol tax, which would tax each alcoholic beverage an additional 10 cents, was also included in the list of bills.
Proceeds of the alcohol tax would fund the expansion of health care, substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, and developmental disabilities support, as well as help the state's general fund.
"I feel like more of a part of a community (since receiving services.)," said Baker's 41-year-old daughter Angie Lepore. "Even though I walk with a cane and I'm paralyzed on my left side ... I'm a regular person."
Currently 5,547 people on the waiting list are receiving at least one service but qualify for more, while 4,836 are not receiving any services. Another 6,600 people are still being classified by the disabilities administration.
While advocates want more people on the waiting list to receive services faster, David Paulson, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the waiting list is being run correctly. The Developmental Disabilities Administration is part of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"The waiting list ... is controversial because the (users) don't like it, but it's being done exactly the way it should be done," said Paulson. "It's a way of prioritizing - to clean up the list to make sure that it's accurate (now) and it's accurate down the road."
Services allotted by the administration include everything from residential programs to family support services. These programs are intended to support and offer community for people who have mental or physical disabilities that were diagnosed before they were 22 years old.
The disability needs to be a life-long impairment in order for an applicant to be eligible.
"It's important to show ... (legislators) that we can make decisions and do things for ourselves and we would like to have things done," said Bill Oghe, a disabilities services user and a self-advocate with People on the Go of Maryland since 1992.
Regardless of whether or not these bills pass, advocacy groups hope that the disabilities community will have more funding for the waiting list. Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed 2011 budget allots approximately $8.9 billion to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, a 9.4 percent increase from 2010.
With the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suffering $56 million in budget cuts over the past 14 months, advocates hope the governor's increase will stick. The cuts have led to more than 100 job losses and a lack of services for many people with mental illness.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.