Waitlist Numbers for ARCH Funding are Staggering

Published On Fri Aug 27 2010
By Helen Henderson
Disabilities Reporter

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Truth is, the going has been tough for a very long time for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Ontario. Faced with a deplorable shortage of funding for crucial services, thousands of families are sinking under the weight, exhausted and impoverished, left languishing on waiting lists that just keep growing.

Now a highly respected province-wide legal aid clinic is has taken up the torch, mounting a public campaign to pressure Ontario to correct these serious funding shortages.

ARCH Disability Law Centre, dedicated to advancing the rights of people with disabilities, says its campaign was prompted by "an alarming and growing trend of adults with intellectual disabilities being unable to afford vital supports that would facilitate their development, independence and participation in the community.

"This crisis is growing and we need your help," ARCH says.

The law group is asking for personal stories from families affected by under-funding in the province's Passport program for adults with intellectual disabilities and the Special Services at Home program for children.

The waitlist numbers are staggering. For Special Services at Home, which serves primarily children, government records show 7,160 on the official waitlist. For the Passport program, almost 4,000 - 3,959, to be exact - have been told officially that they qualify but there's no money.

Staff lawyers Kerri Joffe, Dianne Wintermute and Robert Lattanzio are working on a brief detailing the crisis. They hope to present it to finance minister Dwight Duncan, premier Dalton McGuinty and social services minister Madeleine Meilleur by mid-September.

The lawyers work has been fuelled by the growing number of families calling ARCH for advice. These families have been told they qualify for funding but, years later, are still on waiting lists, Joffe and Wintermute said in a telephone interview.

In July, ARCH lawyers met with officials from the Ministry of Community and Social Services. "They say they have to meet the figures (allotted to them) in the finance minister's budget," Joffe said.

In a telephone interview, social services minister Meilleur said she welcomes the ARCH campaign and thanks parents for their advocacy. "We know they need our support," she said.

Meilleur emphasized that she sits on the management board of cabinet. Chaired by Duncan, it authorizes annual spending plans submitted by ministries. "In this economic uncertainty, he (Duncan) has his own challenges," she said.

The government puts almost $31 million annually into the Passport program and almost $33 million into Special Services at Home, Meilleur said. "One of our main objectives is to eliminate waiting lists," she added. "But the downturn in the economy makes it difficult."

Maybe so. But downturn or upturn, the families in question have been short-changed through good times and bad. It's time to meet their needs.

The ARCH campaign urges Ontario to "substantially improve funding fairness and transparency by ensuring that "sufficient long-term funding is in place so that Ontarians with intellectual disabilities can live a quality life in their community with the supports and services they need."

Laid out on the group's web site http://www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/?q=improving-funding-ontarios-developmental-services-increasing-passport-and-special-services-home-fund the campaign also includes a lobbying kit with suggestions on how to raise the issue with MPPs and a copy of a template letter that can be used for writing to government members.

ARCH urges families to talk, among other things, about the challenges they face, the negative impacts of not receiving adequate funding and the positive changes they could achieve if they received the funding..

"The need is urgent and the time is right," the law group says. "Together, we can make our voices heard."

Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays. helenhenderson@sympatico.ca

Reproduced from http://www.thestar.com/living/disabilities/article/852152--waitlist-numbers-for-arch-funding-are-staggering

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