LARC lobbies for funding

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$91 million cut draws big crowd at capital

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Betty Walker was the last to step on the bus leaving for Tallahassee. The faces of the passengers, clients of the Levy Association for Retarded Citizens, lit up when they saw her short frame come in to view.
“Does anybody know why we’re going to Tallahassee?” Walker asked.
“Yeah, for support!” replied a voice from the back. “We don’t want our services cut at all. We want funding.”
About 20 LARC clients, several staff and one county commissioner traveled by bus to the capital March 23 hoping to have their voices heard regarding recent cuts to the Medicaid program.
About 900 people from developmental disability groups from around the state gathered in front of the steps on the Capitol’s plaza as part of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day. Many carried signs asking for funding not to be cut.
“It’s wonderful to see you in the halls talking to your legislators,” said Renee Valletutti, chair of the Developmental Disabilities Council. “Only by continuing our efforts will our voices be heard.”
Valletutti told the crowd there are about 30,000 developmentally disabled people in Florida on a wait list to receive services from groups like LARC and other ARC programs.
“The wait list must end. They must hear us. Our policymakers must hear,” Valletutti said.
“We urge our legislators to make the right choice, to work hard and get creative.”
Gov. Rick Scott, as well as several other state officials and directors of various groups, spoke about the impact showing up to such events has on legislation.
“I look forward to working with you and making this the best place to live in,” Scott said.
About 30 seconds after his speech began, it ended and was followed by the crowd chanting, “No more cuts.”
“It’s the first time the Governor ever showed up, though everybody got to booing when he got ready to leave,” Walker said on the bus ride home. “I’ve never seen a man move that fast. Anybody that moves that fast, how are they going to discuss it. I don’t think he really wants to be bothered with anybody.”
Walker, who’s been coming to lobby for the developmentally disabled for about 32 years with LARC, said the day’s turnout was good, however.
“We haven’t had that many in a long time,” she said.
Deborah Linton, executive director for Florida ARC, said in a phone interview the developmentally disabled in Florida this year would miss out on $91 million at minimum.
The cost of doing business—paying employees, benefits and utilities—has gone up over the years, she said. But funding has continued to go down.
“On the local level, Levy ARC, they have already lost 20 percent of their funding in the last seven years. This would be another 5 percent loss on top of that,” she said.
“We have a new governor, and we’re trying to make him understand that Florida is vulnerable.”
Florida is especially vulnerable, she said, because the state has a high percentage of elderly, who, if having developmentally disabled dependents, are not always able to provide the support and life experiences that ARC groups provide.
    LARC, which has been around since 1976, provides adult education, job skills training, living skills and support to the developmentally disabled in the tri-county area.
“I think Levy (LARC) does a great job,” Linton said. “But they need support.”
To donate your time or money to LARC, give them a call at 352-486-4293.