Open Letter To the Senate Finance Committee

First, I want to thank the members of the Committee for staying late to listen to the testimony of hundreds of Texans with Health and Human Service budget concerns. My daughter, Ashley, and I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of my son and her brother, Justin, who is a resident of the Austin State Supported Living Center. We were received graciously and courteously by Senator Hinajosa and Senator Watson, and a tired and patient panel. Each of us presented our two minutes of testimony to support the continued funding of the SSLCs due to the good work those campuses do, and their critical need in an ever growing population of Texans, which includes an evergrowing number of vunerable persons with severe and profound developmental disabilities.

First my daughter gave a heartfelt view of her brother’s life and the vast improvement he has shown since living at the Austin Center. A few minutes later, I did my two minutes worth and believed I was finished. I was a bit surprised when I was challenged by Senator Schwertner, who asked if I knew how much it cost the state to support my son in his present setting. I had understood that, like all of the hundreds of people who had gone before me, I was there simply to make my two minute plea for consideration of continued funding for programming I held dear as a loving and concerned father. I had no idea that I needed to be prepared to debate a complex and multi-leveled funding forumla for the various forms of placement on the IDD care continuum. As a former litigator of at least nominal skill, I surely could have developed a competent counter argument to the Senator’s characterization of the SSLC population size and cost, and his belief that the current system was not “fair”, had I only known the rules of engagement before he posed his question. The morning after I am prepared to present at least some counter information, or alternative facts.

The Senator stated that the cost of supporting my son was $250,000.00 annually. I do not have access to the funding information, but as a retired state employee and former corporate accountant, I do know that such budgetary statements can be misleading without further analysis. For example, one would need to ask if the salaries of central office officials who deal indirectly with the centers get charged to the center, does the maintenance and utility connection and usage of emply buildings on the 93 acre campus get charged to my son, does depreciation of fixed assets get charged to my son, and finally, what effect does the recently decreased population have on the per capita charge of each resident left on the sparsely populated campus. All of the issues have the potential of making the burden of supporting people like my son seem much larger than it is. Additionally, it seems that the Senator was stating that such expensive programming is unfair to those who choose to live in the community, where the per capita outlay for the state is much lower.

When one compares cost of services, one must also look carefully at the what services are provided in each setting. My son lives in a community where his housing, daily living care, dental services, workshop programming, food and nutrition, and medical care are all included. Those in privatized community homes are contracted mainly for housing and nutrition. These homes rarely offer daytime programming, never offer health care, rarely offer transportation, and never offer dental care. As I have often pointed out to others on this issue, I can go to a walk in Urgent Care center for $50 and I will get the medical care I paid for, or I can be placed in intensive care for a great deal more money, but I will get a great deal more service. I listened for hours last night to scores of people living or providing for care in the community, complain about the poor pay of attendants and the lack of available care in the community. The nearly endless testimony was further evidence as to why community care is cheaper.

Finally, I want to point out that the Senator’s statement about cost was very personal and difficult. My earliest Texas forebearers came here when this was still Mexico. In my family, personal responsibility and independence were cherished governing principles. So when we had to make the dark and difficult decision to place our son in the care of the State, it was with not only the ulitmate sense of loss and failure, but also with shame and embarassment. I hate that the care of my child, who is afflicted by a disorder with which no one should ever have to suffer, is such a burden to society. But I have to remember that this disorder brings with it an even greater burden to his family, and even more to him.

I want to ask that the Committee please consider our testimonies from the night before, and the additional information included today. Please maintain our SSLC system intact to protect not only those there presently, but those who could benefit in the future from the inclusive and life saving facilities.