More than 200 concerned parents crowded into Ventura City Hall on Tuesday night to voice support for a pending state bill that would pump $27 million into centers that care for the developmentally disabled.
Officials say that without the money, the 21 centers throughout California--including two in Ventura County--may be forced to close as early as March 1.
"Everyone is very nervous," said Allen G. Evans, executive director of the Tri-Counties Regional Center, which administers the state's Department of Developmental Services for Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. "The whole system is threatened."
Stalled by Dispute
The bill, which has been amended twice, is stalled in a dispute between the Legislature and the governor over whether to borrow the money from another state fund or raise it through a tax increase. The centers operate on an annual budget of about $100 million and face a $27-million deficit for this fiscal year because of a shortfall in anticipated federal funds.
Ventura County's centers in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks offer a broad array of services to almost 2,000 local residents who suffer developmental disabilities ranging from mental retardation to cerebral palsy.
Residents and their families can take advantage of programs that include psychological counseling, speech therapy and child development programs. The centers also refer clients to licensed residential care homes and provide a clearinghouse for hundreds of other services.
"They've been wonderful for me. They've been the light in a room of darkness," said Adel Martin of Simi Valley, whose 4-year-old son Daniel is severely developmentally disabled.
"Not only is it beneficial to my son, it offers support to my entire family. If it closes, my son will have no services available," Martin added.
Series of Rallies
Tuesday night's rally was one of a series taking place this week throughout California to gain Gov. George Deukmejian's attention and rally support for the plight of the regional centers.
The state usually finances 100% of the centers' operations. But it ran into trouble this year when an anticipated $27-million reimbursement from the federal Health Care Financing Administration was denied.
This left the regional centers with a $27-million deficit in their operations budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30. As a result, Evans said, by March 1, some centers may have to slash 95% of their services and operate on a skeleton staff. In the Tri-Counties area alone the deficit is estimated at $1.2 million, he said.
At the meeting, Evans urged relatives to send letters and telegrams to Deukmejian asking for his support. An interpreter translated into Spanish. Parents carried placards and toted children in their arms; many developmentally disabled children also attended the meeting, some in wheelchairs, others wearing Special Olympics T-shirts.
One of the evening's more eloquent pleas for state funding came from 21-year-old Kathy Stewart, who lives in a small home for developmentally disabled adults in Simi Valley.
"I wish the governor would put himself in our shoes and see that our parents can't afford to pay for us to stay in places like these all by themselves," Stewart said.
"Just because people are disabled doesn't mean we don't have rights," she said.