Editor: At its March 6 working session, county supervisors voted to cut the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services’ $1 million request for employment day support for students graduating from high school by 40 percent ($400,000) and approved $2.8 million for artificial turf for two high schools.
In the end, all this money comes from our tax dollars. As a community, we need to ask ourselves whether the decisions accurately reflect our values, our sense of fair play. To be sure, artificial turf is a good idea and many would benefit from it. But it arguably fits into the “nice to have” category rather than “essential.”
What does cutting $400,000 from the MHSADS request do? It means that almost half of the kids with developmental disabilities on the waiting list (20 out of 40) for supported employment/training will have nowhere to go after graduating from high school.
The county has invested approximately $4 million to educate these graduates. Now, we are to tell them to sit at home in front of a TV. In many cases, a parent will need to stay home from work to be with the child. It costs less for the county to provide supported employment or day support than the county loses in employment (taxes, spending) of the parent or the cost of policing, hospitalization and incarceration, which may result from idleness. From a purely management point of view, this is not cost effective.
Persons with developmental disabilities can contribute to our community, but this will not happen if we as a community are not willing to try a bit harder. Fairfax has a well-funded post-secondary program that offers 14 different options to families with disabled adults. We have only two options and even then, we must fund the program to have these.
The MHSADS budget for employment support has not been increased for the past eight years. This means it has decreased in purchasing power by more than 15 percent. In the next eight years, there will be at least 120 more disabled persons graduating from our high schools. We need to plan for this now.
In a budget of $2.5 billion, the funds required to fix this problem are modest. But this is not just a matter of money. This is about community values. Whether we as a community are willing to help neighbors who, through no fault of their own, are in need. The good news is that Loudoun’s robust growth enables us to help those with developmental disabilities and have our artificial turf.
I hope that the supervisors will take another look and fully fund support for these young people with disabilities. We are grateful for your service as careful stewards of our tax dollars, but we also need you to approach these tough decisions in a spirit of kindness that reflects our values.
Charles Martin, Wildflour Caterers, Chantilly