Budget pinches the disabled

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Last week’s provincial budget contained good news and bad news for organizations that provide programming for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD.)

The good news is that cuts in the 10 to 15 per cent range did not happen, as had been rumoured late last year. The bad news is that the “no cut, no increase” budget the government announced could actually mean five per cent less for organizations like St. Albert’s LoSeCa Foundation.

The province will spend $597 million for PDD programming in the upcoming fiscal year, about the same it spent last year but rising costs within the system will means less money for individuals and families, said Wendy McDonald, president of the Alberta Association for Community Living.

“There’s a bit of relief but there’s a lot of fear and trepidation about what this is going to mean for individuals and families,” McDonald said.

As well as providing funding to service providers through regional boards, the PDD department also runs its own facilities and services. The unionized workers are due for a pay increase this year. Also, the budget doesn’t account for new entrants to the system or for increased demands of an aging PDD population.

Her organization is disappointed that the government won’t make a long-term funding commitment to PDD in the way it did for the health care system in last Tuesday’s budget.

The government’s numbers are “kind of tricky” since the $597 million to be spent this year and last is about one per cent less than the $604 million included in the spring budget last year, McDonald said.

The government reduced its PDD spending last year partially by narrowing who is PDD eligible, creating waiting lists and providing only partial assistance to some people, McDonald said.

She wants the government to consult with organizations when addressing fiscal challenges.

Marie Renaud of St. Albert’s LoSeCa Foundation is concerned that shorter-term contracts have become the norm. Her organization usually signs a one-year contract with the government but could only get a six-month term this year. Some organizations are even using three-month contracts, McDonald said.

For Renaud, this trend raises questions about the reliability of government funding throughout the year.

“I’m under no illusion that we’re not going to get cut,” Renaud said.

St. Albert MLA Ken Allred wasn’t happy with how PDD fared in the budget.

“I was a little bit disappointed … that they didn’t get some kind of increase because they are another vulnerable area,” Allred said.

Seniors and Community Supports Minister Mary Anne Jablonski said her department will continue to look for efficiencies throughout the year.

“We’ll redirect those savings to the front-line supports and services,” she said.

Contracts are negotiated between the regional boards and individual organizations and she’s not aware that shorter terms have become the norm, Jablonski said.

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