A move to eliminate state grants to the Centers for Independent Living has prompted agency officials to schedule public rallies against the cuts at noon today in Soldotna and Homer.
Jim Brady, an Americans with Disability Act specialist with the program in Homer, said he hopes the rallies will raise public awareness about the program and about the effect cuts would have on it. Gov. Frank Murkowski's fiscal year 2004 budget would cut $619,100 in grants statewide. Brady said the centers are seeking public support for an effort to restore the grants.
"When the governor's budget was unveiled, he included elimination of Centers for Independent Living grants," he said. "This will have a severe impact on our ability to serve our consumers."
Brady said he also hopes to garner public support for moving oversight of the four Centers for Independent Living located around the state from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to the newly forming Division of Disability and Senior Services in the Department of Health and Social Services.
"The division is more in line with our mission," Brady said.
The Kenai Peninsula Independent Living Center incorporated in 1991 and operated as a one-person office in Homer from 1991 to 1995, according to background supplied by Brady. In 1995, an office was opened in Soldotna, and in 1998 another opened in Seward. The ILC is responsible for Independent Living services on the peninsula, on Kodiak Island and in Valdez-Cordova.
Some 462 people with disabilities living in Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, Seward and Kodiak use the services. About 37 percent are over the age of 55, 29 percent have physical disabilities, 25 percent have mental health disabilities, 21 percent have cognitive disabilities, 19 percent have lost vision or hearing and 5 percent have multiple disabilities.
Consumers receive advocacy services, assistive technology, housing modifications, life-skills training, information and referral services, mobility services for the blind, personal assistance services, transportation services and vocational services.
According to Brady, the governor's cuts would reduce the ILC's operating budget for the peninsula from about $262,000 to $142,000, a cut that could leave as many as 200 people with disabilities unable to get ILC services.
"This would close the Seward office and six people in the Soldotna office would lose their jobs, including four with disabilities themselves," he said.
Overall statewide, the cut would reduce the state's commitment to Independent Living services to just $32,000 and also close offices in Kotzebue, Ketchikan, Wasilla and Kenai. In all, an estimated 700 people across the state would lose services.
The cuts don't make sense, ILC officials argue.
Some 49 Alaskans would be forced into costly institutional care that could cost the state as much as $4.43 million a year, according to the ILC.
The rallies, set for noon today, will be held at the Soldotna ILC office at Princeton Avenue and Kalifornsky Beach Road next to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office and in Homer at WKFL Park on Pioneer Avenue.
For more information, call (907) 235-7911 in Homer or 262-6333 in Soldotna.
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