Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Supporting NC’s Independent Living Program

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The National MS Society was one of several organizations and concerned individuals that delivered public comments to the Joint House and Senate Appropriates Subcommittee on the Health and Human Services Budget over the last two days.  The Society focused our comments specifically on the importance of the Independent Living (IL) Program within the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Last year, in our public policy issue survey, 70 percent of respondents stated that the NC Independent Living Program was the “most important state-funded program to them.  While many programs in NC Health and Human Services Budget draw down federal dollars, the Independent Living Program does not. 

As released in last week’s budget proposal the Governor recommends reducing the financial eligibility for receiving IL services from 125 percent to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. This 1.77 million dollar reduction would further reduce access to rehabilitation engineering, home and vehicle modifications; independent living skills training and assistive technology and other equipment purchases.

The Society shared the personal story of a gentleman named Tom from Charlotte, who due to the progression of his MS is now a quadriplegic and bed-bound. Funding provided by the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and services provided by the National MS Society, provided Tom access to a hands free device that allows him to use a computer and software program. Provisions, that allowed him to be “reborn and reconnected” to his career and passion in graphic arts.

Since October, services provided by the IL Program budget have been frozen due to the current budget situation. This means more than one thousand individuals living with disabilities are going without equipment and training to stay independent. Diane who lives with MS in Chatham Country is one such individual who had been waiting for accommodations. Diane awaits a ramp to ensure as her MS becomes progressively worse she will be able to maneuver the steps at her home. Thanks to the Society’s collaboration with SWOOP (Strong Women Organizing Outrageous Projects), Diane is now being removed from the Independent Living waiting list; however, hundreds still await funding for services.

Services provided by the Vocational Rehabilitation Independent Living Program to Tom and others living with MS and disabling conditions are essential to a person retaining independence, staying in their homes, and continuing to contribute to North Carolina. NCActivisMS will continue to monitor and provide updates on the budget process as it relates to people living with MS.
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