Potential DPW Policy Changes Could Endanger Disabled

Mary Wilson & Essential Public Radio Staff May 4, 2012

Advocates are warning that some policy changes by the state Department of Public Welfare (DPW) are endangering the agencies that provide services to people with disabilities in their homes and communities.

Disability rights activists are renewing their call for a meeting with the governor about proposed budget cuts and changes to programs. A group of 26 people, many in wheelchairs, chanted outside the governor’s office Thursday, saying their repeated attempts to schedule a meeting had been denied.

Some of the changes have just been proposed, and others have already been implemented. But people who receive in-home care and the organizations who provide those services say regulatory changes from the state are making them scramble to provide the same care with fewer resources.

Zach Lewis, who gets around in a wheelchair, lives by himself in Philadelphia. He gets in-home care, but he says it’s been more difficult to access.

“That means, for me, not being able to get turned and get weight shifts the right way, properly, when needed. That can cause for me to break down, my skin to break down, and infection to set in,” Lewis said.

Lewis said if the service organizations continue to feel pinched by reduced funding and new restrictions, he can see a day when he’d have to live in an institution.

Joyce Ashe, a Dauphin County resident and a disability rights activist, said people with disabilities have not been included in discussions about budget cuts or policy changes that affect them.

“And I don’t think it’s too much just to ask for an appointment just to sit down with
two people and sit with them about the issues that is affecting the disability
community,” Ash said, “so that’s really sad for a governor.”

However, a spokesman for the governor says various disability rights groups have met numerous times with the secretaries of the Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Aging, as well as different members of the governor’s staff. Governor Corbett was in Lehigh County Thursday when the activists rallied outside his Capitol office.

Representative Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks County), the chairman of the House Human Services Committee, believes the biggest problem is a state law passed last summer that allowed policy changes within the DPW to bypass a review board and any input from people affected by the changes.

“Act 22 basically gave the Secretary of Welfare the ability to make changes to policy
without going through what was back then a regulatory review process,” DiGirolamo said.

The additional authority given to the public welfare secretary expires this summer.
DiGirolamo said he might vote against extending it.