Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are bosom buddies, or at least that’s the political narrative pushed forward about them. Both are also running to be the Republican nominee for president next year based on their experience as like-minded government managers.

One big difference between these two GOP state leaders, where normally little daylight shines, is how each has reacted to calls to show their compassion in their budgets for the most vulnerable of their constituents, the severely developmentally disabled.

Christie Can Cave, Why Not Kasich?

In the Garden State, Gov. Christie’s popularity has plummeted as he’s tried to squirm out of or distance himself from Bridgegate, the scandal that hangs over him like a big dark cloud. In Ohio, term-limited Gov. Kasich, who can’t break out of single-digit national ratings despite spending months on the campaign trail and more than $5 million in one state alone, New Hampshire, has shown his so-called compassion is severely limited to his mostly rhetorical claims of helping “people living in the shadows.

Gov. Kasich’s veto of a facilities closure commission inserted into the last state budget by Republican leaders in the Ohio House as a commonsense method to understand whether state-funded developmental disability centers in Youngstown and Dayton should be shuttered, as Mr. Kasich wants to do, or kept open so severely handicapped residents and their caregivers can maintain stability in settings they’re familiar with, before being thrown into the chaos of community care the Kasich Administration wants to move them to to save state funding for other purposes, like more income tax cuts for Ohio’s wealthiest.

Ohio’s DC Lawmakers Ask CMS For Help

A letter dated September 23 was signed all 18 Members of Ohio’s Congressional delegation in Washington, including Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and House Speaker John Boehner, and sent to Acting CMS Administrator Andrew Slavitt. The bi-partisan group asked CMS to “work with the state of Ohio on its Transition Plan to ensure compliance with the final Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) rule.”

“We are writing to ask that you provide the State of Ohio with the flexibility and time necessary for a successful transition – one that prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of those with developmental disabilities,” the letter said. “We request that during the rule’s implementation that consideration be given to the unique needs of all affected individuals, including those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

When Ohio House leaders added a closure commission to Ohio’s last biennial budget, it was a statement about their concern for people like Tobin Tarr’s brother Steven, a resident at the Youngstown developmental disability center [DDC]. Tarr’s brother is now being forced to leave his familiar surroundings and 24/7 care by trained, experience health and medical professionals. Gov. Kasich issued 44 budget vetoes, one of which took out the closure commission inserted by House Members.

Plunderbund has covered this on-going story of how Mr. Kasich boasts of his compassion yet refuses to give it to people who without the care of the state would find themselves in truly dire straights.

Caregivers Speak Out On DDC Closures

Asked to comment on the letter to Ohio officials, Robin Tarr said she was surprised but pleased that the Republicans would put this together and not Democrats. “It’s a great letter and speaks to the fact that the state development disability department needs to slow down and reassess what the governor and the DODD have done in not addressing those most vulnerable like Richard who cannot move to a group home or work at a job in the community,” she said via email Tuesday.

Tarr said it’s not just the capability of people like her brother Richard that’s at stake. “If you are non verbal and sit in a wheel chair all day thrashing around or beating your head against a wall screaming all day where will you work?,” she wondered. “They don’t care. This issue is a serious human rights violation that someone will one day have to be held accountable for because people are gonna die. It’s a fact.”

Ohio’s DC lawmakers seem to be on the right track compared to Gov. Kasich’s wrong track. “The overriding concern is that prioritizing community employment without also considering a person’s individual circumstances, needs, and preferences may pose a health and safety risk either due to these individuals’ unique challenges or by subjecting them to an environment that may not be in their best interest,” the letter to CMS said. “Without adequate time and support, the rule’s implementation could result in the elimination of a choice that provides I/DD Ohioans with daily structure, meaningful activities, and a productive work environment.”

Gov. Kasich might take a tip or two from his buddy and friend, Gov. Christie, who after trying to do the wrong thing like his Buckeye buddy finally did the right thing but maybe for the wrong reason.

At issue in New Jersey was about 470 severely disabled adults who were placed at out-of-state facilities by the state, some as long as 50 years ago, all because the state couldn’t care for them, according to reports.

This population, having been placed at locations that could do the job, is now being forced back into the state. Called a “money grab” by critics of Mr. Christie and his administration, his decision to implement a program that forces these people back into the state and into group homes would “cause tremendous upset to the disabled individuals and their families,” Trentonian reporter Jeff Edelstein wrote.

“At worst, it would kill the disabled people,” Edelstein said. “That’s not hyperbole; the families were very concerned about moving their loved ones from places with round-the-clock medical care to places where there was zero by way of doctors.”

The New Jersey legislature eventually sided with the families, passing a bill near unanimously to end the program. Christie, much like his brethren buddy in Ohio, vetoed it.

There are other disabled people who are facing imminent harm and death, said Peggy Cooley, another Ohioan with a loved one who would be endangered if Gov. Kasich’s veto pen is allowed to stand. “When Greg Moody tried to eliminate 14,000 Independent Providers through a budget proposal, he literally created chaos for 16,000 complex disabled citizens of Ohio,” Cooley wrote by email.

Cooley noted eight HCBS Medicaid waivers using Independent Providers were impacted. While Disabilities Rights Ohio has been busy threatening litigation against the Ohio DODD, the Independent Providers and consumers have found themselves with no one to advocate for them, she observes. “The Arc of Ohio seems driven to find a solution in the form of self direction, so that the State of Ohio will not have to become the employer of record for the Independent Providers.”

One attorney has offered to help Cooley and others like her with people at risk in the system, as they try to raise funds through a gofundme account and two T-shirt sales.

As for Govs. Kasich and Christie, Cooley wants Kasich to follow Christies lead. “Apparently condemning disabled people to possible death, despite the legislature disagreeing with him, probably wouldn’t look good for a candidate running for President. I am surprised that Kasich did not follow suit.”

“I can only hope that this delegation letter to US Congressional members is a wake up call that the most vulnerable disabled citizens of Ohio also have civil rights provided to them by the ADA and the Omstead Act,” Cooley said.

Robin Tarr had more blunt words for Gov. Kasich. “Blood will be on them all. There is only a small population of the mentally challenged who really fit their criteria for leaving the DDCs and moving to community life,” she said.

 

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