Families Can’t Wait

Leroy - Posted on 07 August 2012

Jerome Harris

Opt Ed – August 1, 2012

Safety for people with developmental disabilities is a critical concern. The most recent legislation, S-618 requiring school bus safety precautions for adult students with developmental disabilities is a small part of the safety conversation.

The continued lack of support for safe community long term systems has created a crisis for poor urban families with developmental disabilities who live in neighborhoods frequented with gun violence.

Brenda Gillison of Paterson explains although she can teach her younger children to lie on the floor when they hear the sound of gunfire, she cannot teach her 21 year old daughter with developmental delays to do the same. She also talks about how over the years her neighborhood has changed to violence. After a particularly dangerous night she said “because of my daughter’s limitations, me and my kids are going to die in this apartment.”

A large part of the problem in developing policy for poor, urban families with developmental disabilities is the long standing attitude that disability is worthy of safety nets, while safety nets for poverty is met with opposition. It would follow that poor families are being looked at only from poverty perspectives therefore the intersections of disability needs are not being met.

David Wittenburg of the Urban Institute in Washington, DC states “I have generally found, in news outlets and at research conferences, other programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps tend to get far more publicity in serving low-income adult populations than disability programs. As an economist, this is a very interesting phenomenon given the amount of money we spend on the two major Social Security disability programs, which include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance (DI) —the expenditures on those programs are more than double the amount spent on TANF and food stamps combined. Yet when it comes to disability programs, we often think of them as separate, and a key question is why are we thinking of these programs as a separate component of the safety net? And I think part of the issue is, at least when these programs were set up, policymakers considered the population of people with disabilities somehow different and separate and deserving of cash support from other low-income populations.”

A recommendation for safe housing for families with developmental disabilities would be multiple housing agency partnerships with the Division of Developmental Disabilities. The partnerships would assist at risk families, who struggle with poverty and disability, for safe housing.

Families can no longer wait because they are in additional danger when they cannot teach their child with a disability to lie on the floor when they hear gunfire. Families can no longer wait because they need to be safe. Families can no longer wait because not to assist with both disability and poverty is unacceptable.

Jerome Harris of NJ is the Chair of the National Black Disability Coalition. He can be reached at www.jharris@blackdisability.org


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