Arizona Opinion: Does Gov. Ducey Value People with Disabilities or Only Fetuses with Disabilities?

July 1, 2021
Arizona Daily Star
Michele Thorne

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer: 

“There is immeasurable value in every single life regardless of genetic makeup,” was not spoken by a disability rights activist or by a Democrat running for state office. It was spoken by the governor of Arizona as he signed into law a bill that would ban the abortion of a fetus that has been diagnosed with a genetic abnormality.

Does the governor really value the lives of people with disabilities or only pre-born lives with disabilities? What about Republican legislators who passed the bill?

Their actions reveal their hypocrisy.

Earlier this year, House and Senate Republicans passed SB 1457 which made it illegal for women to abort a fetus that had a genetic abnormality like Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs disease. Simultaneously, when the state was projecting a $1.9 billion on-going surplus, House and Senate Republicans failed to support the systems of care these children will need to live to their full potential.

How underfunded are these systems of care?

Let’s look at three different systems: Arizona Early Intervention Program (AZEIP), Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS) and K-12 Special Education (SPED).

The AZEIP is the first opportunity for parents to get help for their child if they start to fall behind their developmental milestones. This program services children from 0-3 providing speech, physical and occupational therapy. The state of Arizona conducted an internal analysis of rates paid to contracted service providers working with the AZEIP and found that it was underfunded by $14.3 million annually.

A similar analysis of rates paid to contracted service providers working for ALTCS was conducted by the state. This system cares for people with disabilities from the age of 3 through adulthood. The analysis found that the whole system is underfunded by $150 million dollars annually.

When evaluating the underfunding of K-12 Special Education funding in Arizona we have to guess. An evaluation of the costs associated with these services hasn’t been conducted in 14 years. The Arizona School Boards Association estimates it is underfunded by $100 million annually.

That is a $264.3 million annual shortfall in funding for systems that support children born with disabilities throughout the state.

The Arizona budget bills provided a fraction of the funding needed to close the shortfalls for these systems. The Republican flat tax approved by the Legislature and on its way to the governor to become law will cripple the ability of lawmakers to provide funding for these systems in the future.

As a parent of two children who have disabilities, I am appalled at how Republican legislators have used our community to score political points, while ignoring the realities of what happens to those children once they are born.

Raising a child with a disability is not easy. The emotional and financial stress it puts on families is enormous. Parents endlessly fight for their children to have the basic rights to health care, education and community support. Barriers are constantly put in front of these families causing economic hardship, stress, PTSD, increased incidents of abuse in the home and increased placement of these children into foster care.

A robust system of care is critical to help parents through the perilous journey of raising a child with a disability.

On behalf of parents raising a child with a disability, we ask that you stop using our children to score political points. We ask that you help our community prevent abuse and neglect and help our children achieve their full potential by funding systems of support to help families meet the additional needs of their children.

We ask that if you truly value people with disabilities that you put our taxpayer dollars where your values are and fully fund these systems of care.

Gov. Doug Ducey, you have one last chance to make this right. What will you do?

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