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Disabilities Advocates Strategize for Session

Perhaps you know them as the “yellow shirts”. Certainly, state Senator Troy Brown of Napoleonville thinks of disabilities advocates that way.

“Y’all remember when y’all came with the yellow shirts? Let me tell you something. That works!” Brown offers as encouragement.

Disabilities advocates have been meeting with their local state lawmakers, trying to prepare for what promises to be an agonizing and contentious legislative session, as it centers on the budget and a $1.6-billion revenue shortfall. 

Ashley McReynolds, a team leader with the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council—and the mother of a special needs child—says the annual “yellow shirt” campaign is crucial for keeping needed disabilities services available.

“What we’ve really tried to do is to bring out our yellow shirts to meet with every single policymaker before the start of session,” McReynolds explains. “We tell them, ‘I know you’re facing a budget shortfall. But it’s your responsibility to make priorities when it comes to the state budget. And we want supports for individuals with disabilities to be that priority’.”

Lawmakers—at least those from the capital region—are appreciative of the effort.

“Continue to do what you’re doing, and we’ll do our best to help,” Baton Rouge Rep. Steve Carter tells the group.

“I’ll be your premier cheerleader,” Baton Rouge Rep. Regina Barrow promises. “I’m raising a grandson with epilepsy, and he is developmentally delayed. So I know first-hand the challenges you’re facing.”

The big push each year is for waivers, which provide payment for home care and disability assistance. McReynolds says the needs always exceed the availability.

“Across our state we have 13,000 people who don’t want to live in an institution or nursing home or group home. They want to live with their families in their own homes, or have the opportunity to live independently with some supports,” McReynolds asserts.

Last year, the “yellow shirts” persuaded lawmakers to fund 2500 additional waiver slots, and disabilities advocates had hoped to work for 500 more in the upcoming session. But there was a major setback Friday, when Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols announced Governor Jindal’s plan for more midyear budget cuts this year.

“We are freezing all of the waiver slots,” Nichols told reporters via conference call.

When questioned in depth, Nichols advised that as many as 2200 of the recently allocated waivers are being eliminated.