A longer line at the 'Parade of Human Services'
This month marks the beginning of a new legislative year in Virginia. Like clockwork, public hearings will be held across the commonwealth to address the governor’s proposed budget. The hearings give residents a chance to provide feedback on the budget as legislators try to balance the spending plan with the priorities of Virginians.
For any person or group lacking the money to pay for a professional lobbyist in Richmond, these hearings provide an opportunity to try to convince lawmakers that their need is urgent. Most use personal stories to make an impression on the legislators. Personal stories are powerful tools for all of the human service organizations vying for the small pot of public money available for their constituencies.
This “Parade of Human Services” is a heart-wrenching lineup of people who represent the working poor, have disabilities, face unnecessary incarceration and homelessness, are aging, serve as caregivers, or are otherwise vulnerable.
People begin to line up, often hours ahead of time, to sign up for the three-minute slots they are given to express a lifetime of angst. The presenters, harking from every group of the human services community, share their stories, one after the other, for hours. Tears, cheers, anger, fear, hope, despair, gratitude, pleas and prayers are shared as people of all ages, from all walks of life, bare their souls and share their weaknesses before the panel of legislators and the audience.
After hours of testimony, the mood in the rooms grows heavy. So do the hearts and minds of all who have made time to try to influence the government and help it set its priorities.
If you have to been one of these hearings, you have been to them all. The same stories and requests get made every year. And every year, Virginia continues to lag behind the rest of the country in caring about its most vulnerable residents in almost every human service category you can imagine. Keep in mind that Virginia ranks seventh in personal income per capita.
In recent years, the state has been ranked 46th for its fiscal effort toward community-based services for people with developmental disabilities. It has come in at 42nd in Medicaid spending for people with developmental disabilities, and 48th in overall Medicaid spending per capita. It came in last at placing foster children in permanent homes before they age out of the system. The state has improved in some areas, such as education, but it’s still not where it should be. We do worst by those on the fringes.
Ironically, despite this blind spot, Virginia also receives a top score in Pew’s “Grading the States” review, which measures states’ performance in managing money, people and infrastructure. Again, it matters where you place your priorities.
In difficult times like these, taking part in the parade demands more time. The line is growing longer, the needs of the public are increasing. But maybe this year, the lawmakers will act on what they hear.
It is time for Virginia to set an example for the rest of the country and finally treat human services like the core responsibility that it is, rather than as something it only has to do if the dollars are available.
Nancy Mercer is executive director of the Arc of Northern Virginia. Kathy May is an Arc member.
Nancy Mercer and Kathy May
| January 16, 2011; 12:52 AM ET
Categories: Virginia, health care
Save & Share: Previous: How oversight can keep school reform on track
Next: Seeing the good in a vulture
Posted by: submarinerssn774 | January 16, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: anonymousid | January 16, 2011 11:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sgoewey | January 17, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: anon67 | January 17, 2011 8:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Sandy27 | January 18, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.