A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 13, 1999
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
FY'00 RIGHT ON THE "MARC"
There is always something in the air this time of year. Dazzling displays of colored lights electrify the cold winter evenings, holiday decorations of all varieties cling to lampposts, front doors, and bay windows, and a certain spirit of goodwill comes alive in the American people. Doors are held for others more often than usual, dollars are stuffed in hanging red pots despite the overexcited ringing by the people with the bells, and Boston drivers wait that one extra second before honking at you at a traffic light. For a few weeks of the year, everyone is just a little nicer and a tad bit more generous (with the sole exception of people looking for parking spaces at the mall).
Some people claim that the holiday season is the only time of the year that we demonstrate our compassion for fellow human beings. I disagree, for the spirit of giving and caring that we see each December is a reflection of the general kindness of Americans. Even though we are often portrayed as rude and selfish in the mass media, there are countless stories of human benevolence that get left out of the news of the day. Ignored are the family members, friends, and even complete strangers who lend a helping hand every day without hesitation.
Last week, I was reminded of that spirit of selfless giving while attending a ceremony at the State House for the Massachusetts Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC). By way of background, ARC is the largest grass-roots organization in the United States dedicated to individuals with specific developmental disabilities. In this state, ARC is supported by several local affiliates, including CMARC, which focuses on the Central Middlesex area.
Together, these agencies have advocated for individuals with mental disabilities for over 40 years. Among their many endeavors are contracting with the state to provide job placements, promoting legislation to enhance workforce training and skill development, and working in general to improve the lives of citizens with disabilities and their families.
On this day, ARC honored several individuals and organizations for their unbridled commitment in promoting quality community services and advocating for enlightened public policy aimed at mentally handicapped individuals. I was honored, and frankly overwhelmed, to have been chosen as the Legislative recipient for leadership in addressing issues for people with disabilities. While most grateful for their appreciation, we legislators could do little without the tireless efforts and spirited support organizations like ARC.
It is difficult to tackle the issue of developmental disabilities alone because such conditions are widespread in the United States. Statistics show that roughly 7 million Americans are mentally disabled (which is roughly 3 percent of the population). The condition is 10 times more prevalent than cerebral palsy and 25 times more common than blindness. As mental disability knows no color, no religion, and no ethnic background, any family can be affected by it.
It is estimated that about one in ten families is directly affected, which means that countless others experience the issue as well. I am sure that most of us know or know of someone who has a developmental disability, whether the person be a relative, a friend, or a neighbor down the street. Since no family is immune to mental retardation, no person should be denied the opportunity to have the best possible services available. This is something that I have always believed in from the onset of my career in the legislature.
Upon first coming to office in 1989, I became keenly aware of the importance of the issue and began to work diligently to improve the lives of mentally retarded citizens and their families. While becoming familiar with the challenges that lay ahead, I was introduced to CMARC (based in Woburn), which provides services to retarded persons and trains them to become part of the workforce. A healthy relationship was quickly forged and the importance of CMARC in instilling the individuals with a sense of independence, progress, and self-confidence became readily apparent.
When Winchester threatened to cut local funding to CMARC, I could not help but stand up in opposition to such a maneuver. After a much enlightened discussion, meeting members agreed to sustain the funding so that residents would continue to benefit from the excellent programs administered by the organization.
Whether locally, or on a statewide level, ARC has been the catalyst for the development and implementation of positive programs. These programs, and the persons who administer them, allow mentally handicapped individuals to maximize their potential and independence. The smiles and confidence exuded by those served testifies to this feat.
It is with this understanding that I sponsored a bill this session (H. 3767) to index the wages of those human service workers who provide the necessary support, counseling, and encouragement to mentally disabled friends each day. Because caring for mentally disabled persons is labor intensive, it is important that those who care for them are fairly compensated. When wages are poor, it is only natural that the level of service deteriorates and the people who are in greatest need of services suffer.
While the bill itself remains in the Ways and Means Committee, the momentum it generated carried into the budget negotiations which included a salary reserve line item to boost human service workers' compensation. Although vetoed by the governor, the House and Senate rallied in its defense by overriding it. With the final passage of this wage increase, we helped people who devote their lives to helping others.
This budget item is one of the many we legislators have supported in order to maintain the high level of service and assistance to mentally disabled citizens. As in years past, we committed substantial funding to the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) and remained steadfast in our goals to alleviate the Waiting List and facilitate the "Turning 22" program. The nearly $35 million in combined funding appropriated to those two accounts alone will hopefully bring us closer to the day when lines and wait lists are things of the past.
As all of us have benefited from the kindness of others, we must recognize that there are those who require even more help than the rest of us do. These individuals are not capable of taking care of themselves in the way most other people can. Inasmuch as their loved ones try to take care of them, they simply do not have the time, money, or proper training to deal with the issue. In such instances, the DMR, in conjunction with regional and local agencies like ARC, lend support for those in need. With an issue as widespread as mental disability, it is important that the state continue to work with others for the common cause of improving the lives of affected citizens throughout the Commonwealth. In our effort to achieve these partnerships, we will ensure that all citizens in need will benefit from the spirit of giving all year round.