PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday said he will ask the Legislature in his upcoming budget proposal to reallocate $20 million to provide more services for Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities.
The state needs to do a better job of helping people who are unable to care for themselves, Corbett said at Wednesday news conference at the United Way of Philadelphia.
He'll deliver a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year to the Legislature on Feb. 5. In it, he's planning to request $20 million more than the $919 million that his administration says is being provided this year for programs that include day, home and community services for the mentally disabled.
Corbett says the proposal is designed to reduce a waiting list of about 15,000 people by 1,200. Those on the list have been waiting for months or years to get services for adult family members with Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X syndrome and other conditions that cause life-long intellectual impairment.
Members of Philadelphia-based advocacy group Vision for Equality and the group's Waiting List Campaign, who appeared with Corbett, said his proposal would give hope to many families.
"It has been a long and slow uphill battle," said Sheila Stasko of the Pennsylvania Waiting List Campaign.
Corbett said after visiting Vision for Equality last fall and talking to intellectually disabled adults and their caregivers about their struggles, "to say that I was moved ... would be an understatement."
"I believe we have an obligation to look after members of society, citizens of Pennsylvania, who through no failing of their own cannot care for themselves," he said. "It troubles me deeply that in Pennsylvania we have not been meeting our obligations and frankly I believe many of us didn't know what was out there."
He wouldn't estimate the cost to eliminate the waiting list altogether but said he hoped it will happen "before I'm done being governor."
Corbett declined to say where the budget could be cut to come up with the additional $20 million, which he called a "re-prioritization." In difficult economic times with many seeking funding but a finite amount of money to go around, he said, "these people deserve to be first in line."
The governor made reference to angry protests across the state last year when he proposed, and the Legislature approved, ending the decades-old General Assistance program that provided more than 60,000 participants with $200 monthly payments. Opponents said the program, eliminated Aug. 1 to save about $150 million a year, was a last resort for Pennsylvania's most vulnerable residents, including homeless and disabled people, abused women and recovering addicts.
"A lot of people were upset when we cut general assistance ... but the needs are many, the funds are few, and that was before I understood this," Corbett said.
He said it made no sense to provide cash assistance to those who are able to help themselves and are "people in much better physical and mental shape than these individuals."