Special Needs Focus: What is Oklahoma Waiting For?
Imagine this scenario: You’re a single mom working hard to pay the bills and take care of your children. One of your children has special needs, in fact he’s non-verbal, non-ambulatory and needs 24-hour care. Public schools have provided not only special education for your child with intellectual disabilities, but also served the function of care so you can work. But your child is about to age out of the public-school system, and although you’ve been on the waiting list for eight years, there is no help in sight.
My brother in his classroom, not long before he aged out of the public school system
What will you do? You need to work to pay the bills, but with no one to take care of your twenty-one-year-old child with special needs, your choices are limited. You may be forced to quit work and depend on public assistance until your name comes up to receive in-home assistance. Even then, you may not receive enough hours of care to allow you to make a living.
Unfortunately, this situation is not a rarity in Oklahoma, it’s a reality for all too many families. There are currently 5,594 people on the waiting list to receive in-home care assistance and an estimated fourteen-year wait. Let me repeat that statistic: a fourteen year wait for services! At the rate our state is funding in-home services for the intellectually disabled, it would take 128 years to eradicate the waiting list. We don’t have 128 years to wait, families desperately need assistance NOW!
It would cost the state approximately fifty-two million dollars to get everyone off the waiting list. It sounds like a lot of money and it is, but it could be found if it were a priority for Oklahoma. Families are not asking for full-time care, they are asking for assistance. In many cases they are asking for enough help to enable the parents to be able to earn a living.
Keeping the parents in the work force is a positive for the entire community. In the long run, providing funds for in-home services will save the state money. Providing full-time residential care in an Intermediate Care Facility is more costly.
Our state legislators recently voted a raise for themselves, a 35% raise! They now make $47,500 dollars per year. Those legislators who live outside of Oklahoma City also receive a per diem when the legislature is in session. This extra money isn’t enough to make a significant dent in the funding for the waiting list, but I point it out as significant because it shows a disregard for the Oklahoma education system (they are now paid significantly more than Oklahoma teachers) and a lack of prioritizing the needs of our must vulnerable citizens.
What can we do? We must continue to advocate for funding. Write or call your legislators and tell them to vote to fund DDS (developmental disabilities services), both in-home and community waiver services. If lack of services impacts your family, make sure you describe your circumstances to the lawmakers.
Even if you don’t have a family member who needs services, please speak up; we as a community benefit when we take care of our citizens properly. A fourteen-year waiting list is not only unacceptable, it is shameful. Mahatma Ghandi said, “The true measure of a society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Using this quote as out measuring stick, Oklahoma is failing miserably.