Opinion Columns & Blogs

David P. Rundle: Disabled can't depend on private aid

Every season has its rituals and special days. Over the past two weeks, Jews celebrated Passover and Christians marked Easter. Each spring, young people graduate. Every April baseball returns and golfers play the Masters.

And each spring, the disabled, their families and others plead with Kansas legislators either for more funds or no more cuts in funds. Needless to say, this year, like the past year, it is the latter.

Everyone knows the state is in its worse budget crisis since the Great Depression. And last week's collapse of the Mulvane casino deal just made everything worse, as Kansas now has to repay the developer $25 million.

On top of that, tea partiers argue that any increase of any taxes for whatever reason is always bad and should be vehemently opposed, no matter what. They argue that even if people lose governmental services, any gaps created by cuts will be filled by charities, churches and individuals.

The only problem with that argument is that it has no basis in reality. The disabled have to be realists, not idealists, and when we hear that argument we ask: If people face tough times, will they really contribute to someone like Roger?

Roger is 45, intellectually disabled and has cerebral palsy. He was born on a reservation in Oklahoma. He never knew his dad, who died before Roger was born. Growing up was hard for Roger. His mom had a drug problem, and Roger became addicted. Roger got to Wichita with his mother. They were living with friends when she died. The friends began abusing Roger, and he ended up living under a bridge. He was picked up, and a judge ordered him to get a job at KETCH, an entity funded in large part by that awful thing: tax money.

Without such support, private aid could magically appear, but I doubt it. A more likely scenario sees Roger becoming homeless. Worse, Roger might desperately turn to his old habit, and that would only cost everyone a lot more than the aid Roger now receives through KETCH.

If private charities help Roger, a middle-aged minority man who is very different looking and acting, I'd be all for it. In practice, raising money for him is a very tall order. But Roger is lucky. He now has services.

Kansas now has close to 5,000 men, women and children on the developmental-disability waiver waiting list. Private charity by itself cannot serve them; governmental action is essential.

To bring the plight of these people to the public's attention, InterHab, a statewide alliance of agencies that serve the disabled, has been sponsoring the "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" event. Since March 27, people have been walking stretches of state highways and county roads.

The Sedgwick County leg of the walk will be Wednesday and Thursday, with a rally in Sedgwick County Park on Saturday.

Roger credits his KETCH job with saving his life. If tax money can save lives, isn't that money well spent?