State Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, advocates for more state funding on behalf of Alaska residents with disabilities so they can “live as independently as possible” with the help of service providers during a rally in a heavy snowstorm at midday Wednesday on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

State Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, advocates for more state funding on behalf of Alaska residents with disabilities so they can “live as independently as possible” with the help of service providers during a rally in a heavy snowstorm at midday Wednesday on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rally for disability services plows ahead despite weather

About 20 people make their way to Capitol to seek solutions for service shortages.

Right about the time Juneau’s city government and schools announced they were shutting down Wednesday due to the blizzard, about 20 Alaska residents with disabilities and advocates on their behalf were making their way by wheelchair and on foot through deep snow to the Alaska State Capitol for what’s become an annual rally seeking support so they can stand up for themselves.

“We’re better than the post office,” said Kim Champney, executive director of the Alaska Association on Developmental Disabilities, speaking to the resolve of participants who resisted calling off the gathering due to weather.

But the rally participants and many who were unable to attend are facing more than just the hardship of a one-day snowstorm. Organizers said the shortcomings in services are largely financial, much of it related to the state’s Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Unit, which is facing a backlog due both to a lack of services and problems with Medicaid waivers for eligible residents seeking those services.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, calls the long waitlist “unacceptable” for Alaskans seeking help from the state’s Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (IDD) Unit during a rally in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, calls the long waitlist “unacceptable” for Alaskans seeking help from the state’s Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (IDD) Unit during a rally in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday.

”The rates aren’t high enough, we don’t have enough providers, we don’t have enough direct support professionals and there are people that have been waiting for months,” Rep. Genevieve Mina, an Anchorage Democrat whose immediate family members all work in the health care industry, told the rally participants. “The average wait list on the IDD is 56 months and that’s unacceptable.”

Among the rally participant’s goals is a budget increase of about $650,000 for the state Division of Senior and Disabilities Services to fund the first year of a five-year plan to add enough staff and resources to address the lengthy wait list, said Michele Girault, board president of the Key Coalition of Alaska, a statewide nonprofit group that advocates for community-based services.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Alaska residents with disabilities and advocates providing services intended to support self-sufficiency wave a banner and noisemakers during a noontime Wednesday rally in a blizzard on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Alaska residents with disabilities and advocates providing services intended to support self-sufficiency wave a banner and noisemakers during a noontime Wednesday rally in a blizzard on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol.

There are also flaws in determining Medicaid reimbursement rates, which currently are far below the cost of providing services and contribute to workforce shortages, according to Key Coalition officials.

Also addressing the rally participants was state Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat, who said people “deserve the right to live as independently as possible.”

“I appreciate your voices, standing up for those who couldn’t come here today,” she said. “We’ve all had many inspiring conversations and I just want to thank our family members, how we all come together and support one another. I know home and community-based services are just critically important and I hope this Legislature can come through with an increase this year, and let’s continue to stand together, to speak up and to support one another.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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