Senator Bill Perkins and Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez
Give Families an Opportunity to Express Their Concerns to Legislators at a Public Hearing on January 14th, 2016

On Thursday, January 14th, a public hearing was held for families, self-advocates, and all who support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to express their concerns about funding for programs and services. The field of I/DD in New York State has experienced devastating cuts over the last few years. The large turnout of family members – over 100 people signed up to speak at the hearing with many more present – is a testament to the strong concerns being voiced by families.

Mrs. Willie Mae Goodman, parent, advocate, and Willowbrook litigant requested that her local State legislators listen to parents of people with developmental disabilities like herself, regarding the current situation. State Senator Bill Perkins and NYS Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez led the hearing that was held at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Office Building in Harlem. They listened attentively to the scores of family members who came out on a cold winter night to have their voices heard.

Mrs. Goodman opened the discussion with powerful words about how the time had come once again to speak out about the deplorable cuts that have been made in recent times, cuts that are impeding the progress that had been made over the last four decades. “… I’m a Willowbrook parent. I’m one of the parents who helped close Willowbrook in 1970,“ she began. “We are here to talk about all the children, regardless of where they are, and where they live, and who they are. It’s time for us to get together and speak up on the behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Although the meeting was not an AHRC New York City event, AHRC New York City members of the Board of Directors, who are all family members, were in attendance and presented testimony. They included Germaine Laviscount Scott, Meri Krassner, Marilyn Jaffe Ruiz, President of NYSARC INC. Laura J. Kennedy and AHRC member Elly Rufer, who also co-founded the new parent organization NYCFair. They all made powerful speeches that were impassioned and really hit home.

Laura Kennedy opened her remarks by saying: “I am proud to be a citizen of this state, proud that New York had the courage and determination 40 years ago to address a failed system of institutional care …and change to a system of care that has been a model for our country and the world.  Families, professionals, and advocates collaborated with the government to develop community-based services of housing, day programs, supported employment, and family supports in a planned way.  We went from a government that was ignorant, arrogant and indifferent to one that has supported and provided an array of supports so that people could be included and be valued members of their communities.  But that is now all changing.”

Unfortunately, the New York State government has made it difficult for family members to understand and follow their agenda. Funding for many services is being cut and people are being denied services under the guise of being given choice. People who have a family member with I/DD are not clear about how much money is being allotted to the field and where it is actually going according to one family member, attorney Stacey Osborne, who is on the Board of Directors of the Arc of Westchester and has been trying to get answers from OPWDD.

The public hearing legislators seemed very receptive to what everyone had to say. The legislators announced their plan to collect copies of all testimonies, letters to the Governor, and petitions to make a case to reinstate and create services and residences that people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities so desperately need.