Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Letter on the Budget Mess

This is a letter to the Detroit Free Press, September 25, 2007, from Michael Emlaw, the former Superintendent for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District:

Blame is not equal for all

Blaming everyone equally in the state budget crisis ("An utter failure of leadership, Sept. 23) is an abdication of your usual thoughtful, reasoned editorial stance.

This is a contest to win public opinion that one side in particular hopes will translate to election victory. So there is a stubborn insistence that the other side take total responsibility for the tax increase every knowledgeable person knows is necessary. That's the major stumbling block. Everyone is not equally to blame.

It seems clear those advocating a tax increase are exercising real leadership at some personal and political risk to themselves. It also seems clear those arguing for a solution based on cuts are not leading, but pandering.

Michael Emlaw

Ann Arbor

The Mess in Lansing

The Michigan Legislature has 5 days to come up with a balanced budget for this coming fiscal year. For an up-to-the- minute account of what is happening, go to the Countdown to Chaos website and listen to the ticking clock.

I'm no expert on this, but this is what appears to be happening:

After months of fruitless negotiations between the Democratic-led House of Representatives, the Republican-led Senate, and Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, there has been no agreement. The Senate wants to extend the current appropriations while a deal is being worked out. The Governor says she will veto a temporary measure that does not include tax increases and she has a good point: every delay in balancing the budget ultimately costs the people of Michigan more money and allows the deficit to grow without a solution at hand.

The Senate has passed a bill that includes cuts with no tax increases and leaves a $560 million deficit. The cuts to current appropriations include $111.7 million from the Department of Community Health, $3.5 million from the Department of Education, and $207.5 million from the Department of Human Services. The DHS cuts include closing the Maxey Training School, a correctional facility for juvenile offenders 12 - 21. What happens to those kids? Wherever they go, will it not cost money to house, feed, and educate them or will we just send them home? Am I the only one who thinks about things like that?

Apparently the Republicans might agree to raise the state income tax from 3.9% to 4.3 %. The Democrats want to raise it to 4.6%. Some Republicans and Democrats are refusing to vote on proposed bills for fear that whatever they do, someone might not like them. Of course no one likes them now, but that apparently hasn't registered with them.

A government shutdown is a distinct possibility and I have no idea what that will look like. If you don't think this will affect your children, think again.

Find your State Representative here and your State Senator here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Licensing Reports for Michigan Group Homes

One source for information about group homes is an Adult Foster Care website that provides routine licensing reports and special investigations for every group home licensed by the state. Click here for the AFC website to search group homes by county.

Publicly-funded group home placements are generally done through local community mental health agencies using the person-centered planning process required by state law. If you are seeking a group home placement for a family member, you should start by contacting your local CMH. The above website will give you basic information about each licensed home in your area, including who operates the home, how many people live there, and whether it is a home for people with developmental disabilities or mental illness, or for seniors. It includes routine licensing reports which tell you if the home has passed licensing inspections and any problems detected.

Also listed are special investigation reports which occur when an allegation has been made of a serious incident at the home. Some of these incidents are pretty shocking, but you need to read the reports carefully to find out whether the allegations have been supported by the evidence. Unfortunately, there are many serious incidents that hold up under the scrutiny of licensing investigations. When an incident occurs, the group home reports back to licensing with a statement of how it will correct the problem. These reports can be obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request - the website tells you how to ask for these reports.

This web site does not report on every incident that has occurred at a home, but only on the most serious incidents. Other incidents are often investigated by the local CMH recipient rights office.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Equipment Exchange

More information from the AACIL, eNews for Youth:

Free Website for Exchanging Tech and Tools

Introducing a free, Michigan-based, classified-ad website to help people with disabilities get the tools they need: www.atxchange.org. Find what you need; sell or donate what you don’t. Assistive technology includes everything from walkers, reachers, grab bars, and hospital beds, to power scooters, custom vans, Braille machines, and software that reads computer screens out-loud. This free, easy-to-use website is designed to help people exchange both low- and high-tech assistive technology.

For more information contact the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition at (800) 760-4600 or ATX@prosynergy.org.

eNews for Youth from the AA Center for Independent Living

The Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living publishes an email newsletter, eNews for Youth, listing recreational and fun events for people of varying abilities and their families. To receive the newsletter, contact:

Anna Dusbiber
Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living
2568 Packard Rd. (in the Georgetown Mall), Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 971-0277 x17

Here are a few of the events listed for August:

The first annual Great Lakes Independence Ride or I-Ride: Thursday, August 16 through Sunday, August 19.

Riders can participate for one day, two days, four days, just for the last few miles of each day or the last miles on Sunday. Departing from Holland that Thursday, riders will head north along the shore of beautiful Lake Michigan, before turning west toward Grand Rapids. The I-Ride will make brief ceremonial and celebratory stops in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Jackson, finishing with a flourish in Ann Arbor.

To join in the final mile or the after-party come to Gallup Park, 2970 Fuller Rd, near the corner of Huron Parkway, Ann Arbor at 3 pm that Sunday. We’ll be in the larger shelter at the rear of the park near the playground. This is a free family event open to everyone! The party ends at 6 pm.

Contact the I-Ride coordinator at (734) 971-0277 x49 or iride@aacil.org or go to the website www.independenceride.org. Check the website to find out about registration fees and fund-raising goals for I-Ride participants. All participants must register, even if they do not pay.

Ypsilanti Heritage Festival and Mentoring

The Washtenaw Youth Mentoring Coalition and the Ann Arbor CIL will have a table at the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival Friday, August 17 through Sunday, August 19. Meet us at the booth (look for the Coalition’s blue banner) at noon that Saturday for a group exploration of the festival, including the youth games until 2 pm. The festival takes place in Depot Town, Frog Island Park and surrounding areas.

The Coalition will have a decoy duck in the non-profit duck race during the festival. Help us decorate the duck from noon to 3 pm on Friday, August 10 in the art room at the Ann Arbor CIL, 2568 Packard Rd, Ann Arbor. The office is located at the back of the Georgetown Mall. The duck race takes place at the festival’s dock stage at 3:30 pm on Sunday, August 19.

Want to volunteer to staff the booth? Need more information about these events? Contact Jen Chapin-Smith at jchapin@aacil.org or (734) 971-0277 x23.

Weekly Group Cycling Rides

The Ann Arbor CIL invites people of all ages and abilities to join us for a weekly ride using bicycles, handcycles and tricycles. The rides continue this summer on Wednesdays from the Ann Arbor CIL, 2568 Packard Rd, Ann Arbor, behind the Georgetown Mall. Arrive before 6:30 pm, when the cyclists leave the parking lot! Participants must RSVP ahead of time!

Bring your own cycle or use one of ours. If you need to borrow a cycle, reserve it ahead of time by contacting Mary Stack at (734) 971-0277 x56 or mstack@aacil.org. She can also answer your questions. Helmets are required.

Back To School Block Party Aug. 24 in Ypsi

Noise Permit, the Back to School Block Party, will take place Friday, August 24 (rain date, Tuesday, August 28) from 3 to 10 pm at Frog Island Park in Ypsilanti. Free food and entertainment by local youth bands and rappers will be available. Ozone House, Teens Center without Walls and Washtenaw Area Teens for Tomorrow are sponsoring this event, thanks to a grant from Ypsilanti Youth Empowered to Act. Special thanks go to the City of Ypsilanti. Last year 300 youth attended this free event!

For more information, contact Catheryn Malczynski of the Teen Center Without Walls at (734) 973-4384 or check out their website www.Tcw2.com and WATT’s website http://watt.ewashtenaw.org.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Low-tech treatment for drug resistant staph infections

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA can be a serious and even fatal infection. Many people with severe developmental disabilities are at risk for acquiring the infection.

MRSA was first identified as an infection spread in
hospitals, but it began showing up in the 1990's in the wider community. People who are at risk for MRSA are those who have recently been hospitalized, residents of long-term care facilities, people with weakened immune systems, and those who use invasive devices such as catheters or feeding tubes.

One of the first signs of the infection are small red bumps on the skin that
resemble small pimples or spider bites. There are treaments for MRSA, including the anti-biotic Vancomycin, and much that can be done in hospitals and other facilities to prevent its spread. But according to the June 9th, 2007 issue of Science News, ("Sticky treatment for staph infections"), honey made by bees pollinating a New Zealand bush offers a potential new therapy. Rose Cooper of the University of Wales Institute at Cardiff found that the staph cells that became stuck in the manuka honey stop dividing.

Sterile manuka honey has been available by prescription in the United Kingdom since 2004 to treat MRSA. A new study is
underway with the hope that the honey will play a key role in controlling the infection.

For more information on MRSA, check out the Mayo Clinic website.
Especially important for families of people with deveopmental disabilities are the recommendations for preventing the spread of MRSA in hospitals and other facilities.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Summer So Far...

The endless, blogless summer of 2007:

Clute Road near Walloon Lake, Michigan

Lake Michigan from Charlevoix.

My Home town, Garrett Park, Maryland

March for your Children Rally in Lansing to stop special education rule revisions. This is Tim Skubick from the PBS show "Off the Record" interviewing Kathleen Strauss from the Michigan Board of Education.

VOR Annual meeting June 9, 2007 in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Michigan Legislature plugs holes in state budget

Issues concerning the state budget and legislators may seem remote from our daily lives with our disabled family members, but we need to understand how the services they need are funded and how vulnerable our family members are to the whims of public policy makers when we are not watching or do not understand what they are doing.

According to several news accounts, the Michigan Legislature has balanced the budget for this fiscal year (ending on September 30, 2007), by shifting funds, delaying payments to Universities and Colleges, and borrowing $400 million on future payments from the tobacco settlement fund. Medicaid and school funding will not be cut, but other programs will be cut, including the Healthy Michigan fund and the 21st Century Jobs fund. The legislature did not raise taxes, but the state must pay more later to address the state's problem with a structural deficit, which has been made worse by the state's current actions.
Ann Arbor's State Senator Liz Brater, in a recent email to constituents describes the harmful effect on the state from the Legislature putting off difficult decisions:
Because of the use of gimmicks and one-time fixes for so many years to balance the budget, the bond rating agencies have downgraded the state’s bond rating. For the third time this year, Wall Street has downgraded Michigan's credit rating. Standard and Poor's has recently lowered Michigan's General Obligation Credit Rating to AA- from AA. As with previous downgrades from Fitch and Moody's, S&P cites delays in securing budget agreements and the legislature's elimination of the Single Business Tax without replacement revenue as key factors. This results in increased borrowing costs to state and local government and schools, further straining our fiscal position.
Other articles that you might want to look at, now that you are incredibly excited about state budgets and credit ratings, include:

Borrowing, funding shifts keep state afloat in 2007 by Peter Luke and

Can Michigan survive its lawmakers' folly? Legislators fiddled while state burned, an editorial from the Ann Arbor News.

To receive Liz Brater's E-mail newsletter click here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Helpsource Announces it will close by September 30th

Helpsource is the largest nongovernmental service agency in Washtenaw County. According to an article in the Ann Arbor News, the agency's United Way contributions were cut by 25%. Since its creation in 1996, the staff has been cut from 400 to 122, its client base has fallen from 5,000 to 600, and its budget dropped from a high of $11 million to $4.9 million.

Board members decided that HelpSource no longer can afford to provide the services its clients deserve.

The agency provides numerous youth services along with services for seniors, mental health counseling, and substance abuse programs. Developmentally disabled adults participate in the adult day care program.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Let the Whacking Begin

The Detroit Free Press has a series of editorials on the seriousness of the state budget crisis. If something doesn't happen soon, the cuts will begin in earnest ...

So let the whacking begin. And maybe, when all the Secretary of State's branches are closed for a week or two, and people can't get driver's licenses, and the trash is piling up at unkempt rest areas on highways leading to closed state parks, and businesses can't get anyone at the state to answer their calls, and the court date for which someone has been waiting two years is abruptly postponed, and people are bleeding in emergency rooms way longer than 29 minutes because the places are filled with Medicaid patients whose doctors have quit the system -- maybe then the depths of this state's financial problems will alarm the public enough to compel some action.

What a shame that will be. But Michigan is running out of options for much else.

What are you willing to accept? If the legislature raises taxes, what is the fairest way to do that? Should past tax breaks be revoked? Can we afford to raise taxes? Can we afford not to raise taxes? More money is not the answer to every problem, nor is reducing taxes and spending to the point of destroying government programs that we all rely on. Let your state legislators and the Governor know what you think. Contact your State Representative, State Senator, and the Governor.

Survey Assessing Interest in Living Skills Program

Occupational Therapy students in a Masters program at Eastern Michigan University are researching the need for an Independent Living Skills program for teens and adults, 15 - 26 years old. If you would like to fill out their survey, click here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Proposed Changes to Michigan Special Education Rules

Numerous changes to Michigan's Administrative Rules for Special Education have been proposed. One of the most controversial changes is to reduce extended school year programs (summer programs) for many students.There are other areas that may be equally important to parents, such as rule changes to Student Discipline Procedures, Intermediate School District Plans, and Procedural Safeguards.

I have not yet read the proposed changes, but it is striking that the Michigan Department of Education is holding these hearings at only three sites: Lansing, Oakland County, and Roscommon. No hearing in the Western part of the state, the UP, or in Detroit. June 11th, 12th, and 13th could not be a worse time for parents of school age children to come to a hearing. It almost seems as if the MDE is hoping no one will show up.

For links to information about the hearings and all the draft proposals, click here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Michigan's Looming Budget Crisis

The Republican-controlled State Senate, the Democratic-controlled State House of Representatives, and the Governor are locked in a dispute over how to resolve Michigan's budget crisis. Revenues are down, the economy is poor, and the legislature has run out of quick fixes for funding Medicaid that pays for medical care for low-income people, including those with disabilities, the elderly, people with mental illness, and other vulnerable populations. It also pays for specialty services such as day programs, home help services, and long-term care.

The Michigan Department of Community Health, on orders from Governor Jennifer Granholm, will begin cutting fees for Medicaid services on June 1st, 2007, if the legislature and Governor can't agree on measures to avoid the cuts. The programs affected will include in-patient and out-patient hospital fees, Children's Special Health Care Services, Home-Help Services, Dental Services, and the Children's Waiver. The order generally calls for a 6% reduction in rates. For many of these programs this is on top of cuts made in previous years.

The hourly fee to pay people to provide Home Help Services, so that people can live in their own or their families' homes, will be cut 6% in addition to the reductions made in fiscal year 2003 and 2005 currently in place. Dental services for adults, which were eliminated for two years and then reinstated in 2006 with sharp reductions in fees will be cut again by 6%. After last year's reduction in fees for dental services, the number of dentists willing to treat people on Medicaid fell by 39%.

This is the kind of "cost-saving" measure that gives cover to policy makers. Technically, services are not being eliminated, but the effect of reducing fees will likely make services harder to find and poorer in quality. Many people with disabilities will not get the services they need and more families will give up in frustration, finding that the services that are available will not be worth the fight it will take to get them.

You can view the proposed changes here. To comment on them write:

MDCH/Medical Services Administration
Program Policy Division
PO Box 30479
Lansing, Michigan

Or email: MSADraftPolicy@michigan.gov