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Looming cuts cause concern

May 28, 2013 10:30 am | By Mike Pickford | St. Paul Journal

Planned provincial cuts in funding to the Ministry of Human Services over the coming year have earned heavy criticism, particularly from Albertans who are dependent on funding from the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program. Locally, the cuts could be felt in a big way.

“The (budget) cuts will jeopardize people receiving home living support, and people who are living in group homes. They could lose their placements,” says Tim Bear, executive director with St. Paul Abilities Network (SPAN).

A $42 million cut to the ministry is expected and Bear says that cuts particular to the St. Paul area will be around a million dollars.

“Our support will be drastically reduced, particularly support for small rural organizations,” he says. “That’s a little more than a quarter the amount of the funding, around a 27 per cent reduction. Transformational changes are coming along with huge cuts, and that’s the big problem.”

Although the province has vowed there are no fixed cuts surrounding PDD funding, there will be changes made to the funding system to ensure individuals receive only the necessary help they require.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake PC MLA Genia Leskiw said the issue has gained attention over the last few weeks and she insists the department is doing its best to ensure all those in need of government assistance will receive it.

“Although there are some changes on the horizon I’d like to see that we fully support PDD individuals,” Leskiw said. “All those people who need services will get services, but we cannot continue to provide services beyond each individuals needs.”

Individuals in Alberta receive support based upon the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), with their needs identified on a scale of one to seven. Individuals identified as falling under ‘category one’ have low support needs, while individuals placed under ‘category seven’ require extraordinary behavioural supports.

“I’m very much in favour of these changes and I back the minister 100 per cent,” Leskiw said. “The program has been the same for decades and the budget has continued to grow, often at unsustainable levels. So we will have to distribute our money accordingly. We want to support these people so they can be involved in the community at whatever level the individual is comfortable with.”

The budget cuts rank as the highest cuts in the provincial government’s 2013 budget and will be one of the biggest cuts ever made affecting people with developmental disabilities in Alberta’s history, according to a press release from the Wildrose Party.

According to St. Paul-Lac La Biche-Two Hills Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw, “The way one should measure their society is on how they treat their most vulnerable.” He adds, “Front line funding for individuals in need is the last place the government should be looking for cuts. Every individual should be provided all the support they need and require.”

While Saskiw agreed with Leskiw that reform was required, he said he would much rather it be done by way of a controlled, well-planned process that provided guarantees that individuals in need wouldn’t be negatively impacted moving forward.

The groups affected who are the most opposed to the cuts include the Alberta Association for Community Living (AACL), the Alberta Council of Disability Services (ACDS), and the Alberta Disability Workers Association (ADWA), as well as families, family members, service providers, and support staff of people with disabilities, says the Wildrose press release.

Bear voices strong opposition to the cuts, noting they will not be beneficial, even with the new funding model the government plans to move toward.

Agents across the province working with disabled people support an outcome-based model of payment. Bear explains that the current system doesn't reward organizations for good work. It only pays for hours of service delivered.

“It's interesting that government is cutting such a big chunk out of allocation at the same time as they’re trying to develop a better system,” says Bear. “The government is trying to tell us that there will be savings, as a result of transforming the current funding model to a results-based funding model.”

Bears elaborates by saying, “Unfortunately what that means is that there will be service cuts, and lost support in communities across the province. The minister said the government is going to focus on employment first, rather than community access, but it’s going to isolate people rather than help them connect with the community.”

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