Thursday, February 3, 2011

2011-02-03 "Napa Valley Support Services protest against governor's budget" by VICTORIA ROSSI from "Napa alley Register" newspaper
Chanting “No more cuts!,” advocates for the developmentally disabled picketed the offices of their state representatives Wednesday to challenge the $750 million drop in developmental services funding in the governor’s proposed budget.
This was the third day of protests by Napa Valley Support Services, whose staff and clients held up posters and chanted outside the Napa offices of State Assemblymember Michael Allen and State Sen. Noreen Evans. A day earlier, the preferred chant was, “Noreen, hear our screams!”
NVSS, a 50-year-old nonprofit, contracts with local businesses to provide jobs for adults with disabilities. It also organizes social activities, shopping trips and art classes for more than 250 clients.
Carol Marsh, who is blind, has found work through NVSS’s job program and doesn’t like to think about her life without it. “I would be lost,” she said. “I would be bored.”
“For some of them, it’s their lives,” said Leticia Gomez, the group’s activities coordinator.
“It’s our family,” Susie Dalton chimed in as she wandered among the picketers giving out hugs and high-fives.
With cuts also looming for community colleges — another funding source for NVSS — the group could see its budget sliced by more than 30 percent, said Beth Kahiga, executive director of NVSS. “We wouldn’t shut our doors, but we would be a very different organization from what we are today,” she said.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget will soon be taken up by the Legislature. The state is trying to close a predicted $25 billion.
Speaking from Sacramento, Allen said Wednesday afternoon that he’s hearing protests from all quarters. Just Wednesday, he met with representatives from Medi-Cal and Planned Parenthood, who also don’t want to see their funding slashed, he said.
“This is one of the hardest things in society, trying to figure out what a shared sacrifice means, what is equitable, what is fair,” he said.
“It’s not a happy assignment. I’m sure at the end of the day, some people are going to understand what we did, and some people are going to say, ‘Why did they do this?’”
Evans had the same message. “The reality is that everybody is getting cut, not just the disabled,” she said. “Sick children, parks, prisons. The list goes on and on and on.”
Since learning about the potential cutbacks last Friday, Kahiga has tried to keep pace with budget discussions at the capital. On Monday, she hosted a meeting with parents of her clients, many of whose jobs would also be affected if their disabled children no longer had work or activities to attend during the day, she said.
In addition to the three days of picketing, they’ve sent letters and photos to lawmakers’ offices. Kahiga plans to testify at a budget subcommittee hearing herself, the first time she’s done so in at least 10 years. But then again, she said, this is the most alarming situation she’s seen in her three decades with NVSS.
“Six years ago, I was squeezing blood from a turnip. Last year, I was squeezing blood from a rock,” she said. “This year, I’m looking for my rock. There’s nothing to squeeze anymore.”

About 20 protesters, many of them adults with disabilities, gathered outside their state representatives' offices in downtown Napa Wednesday to demand less drastic cuts to services for people with disabilities. Victoria Rossi/Register

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