Targeting the disabled — A heartless, impractical move

Late last week, Gov. Rick Scott blindsided tens of thousands of disabled Floridians and their caregivers by signing an executive order to immediately cut their funding.

Yet that very same day, the governor made time for a photo op — for the Special Olympics Torch Run.

"We've got to make sure that we take care of those who have struggled and have a disadvantage," the governor said with the cameras present.

Scott was right, even if his timing was galling.

Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities serves about 35,000 people — from the mildly disabled to wheelchair-bound Floridians who can barely do a thing for themselves.

The number served may sound high. But the demand is even greater.

The waiting list for those with autism, for instance, is longer than the list of those who actually get help.

Yet, Scott's order may merely exacerbate the problem.

The cut he ordered was immediate — 15 percent overall. Even more for some workers.

In some cases, caregivers who were making $10 an hour may now make less than $8.

That's precisely the case for the woman who cares for Elizabeth Sickle, an Orlando adult who has cerebral palsy and spends much of her time in a wheelchair. "Losing our caregiver would really affect Elizabeth," said her mother, Rebecca, "both emotionally and psychologically."

Similar worries can be found around the state.

Christine Baker Janesko, whose 13-year-old son has Asperger's syndrome, shuddered when she heard about the prospect of fewer workers at University of Central Florida's Center for Autism and Related Disabilities — a place that Janesko described as a "godsend."

So why were the cuts made?

Well, the agency was running over budget by $170 million — a problem to be sure.

That's partly because, five years ago, the program was expanded to serve more people while the funding wasn't. You don't need an MBA to see that's a problem.

A spokesman for Scott told the Tallahassee Democrat that the governor viewed the overnight cuts as "a very tough choice; one that could no longer be avoided."

State Sen. Andy Gardiner, however, isn't so sure.

The Orlando Republican is looking for other solutions, such as shifting money in a way that wouldn't prompt such dire consequences.

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