Reprint from the Metrowest Daily News
Blumenthal: Time for Patrick to deliver
Politicians making promises in the heat of a campaign is nothing new. But it often takes years to see if they are kept.
For Gov. Deval Patrick, the budget he files for the upcoming legislative session will be the final chance he has to demonstrate if his prior pledges of fairness, economic growth and social progress will be honored.
People living with disabilities, their families and the workers who provide supports and services for them will be watching a few key areas with great interest and anticipation. For over a quarter century, disability, veterans, children’s and other human service programs have been waiting for an elected official to fix the funding disaster that has governed private programs they administer by contract on behalf the state. In 1987 the state got rid of a rate setting process and essentially froze human service contracts for the next generation at Reagan-era rates.
From 1988 to 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index rose 102.14 percent, while over the same period of time, base human service contracts, which impact the most vulnerable in our state, grew by 0 percent. On the rare occasions during this period when the Legislature gave small increases to compensate the poorest of human service workers base contracts remained frozen in time.
In 2006, when Deval Patrick campaigned as a new kind of leader, promising to change the way the state conducted its business, the disability community was filled with hope as he pointed to his progressive political credentials as a deputy attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration.
Two years into office, he further raised the expectations of the disability community by first endorsing and securing the passage of rate reform, and then signing it into law, calling for human service rates and low-paid work salaries to be raised to fair and adequate levels within four years.
Six years later, and after an extension to give the state more time to keep its promise, Patrick’s upcoming budget will represent his last chance to honor his promise to human service workers who have been working two and three jobs to stay in the human service profession.
As Patrick works to build the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, special attention will be focused on the role of two of his new Cabinet secretaries, who are putting together their first full budget. John Polanowicz, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and Glen Shor, the secretary of Administration and Finance, will be expected to balance all of the governor’s legal obligations, such as rate reform, public safety and schools with his promises, priorities and the general maintenance cost of running state government. In an era of tight resources, the challenge for these two is great.
Previous governors made large promises – some delivered, and many did not. When Patrick titled his autobiography, “A Reason to Believe,” he might as well have been speaking to people with disabilities, their families and the workforce helping this community. We’ve searched for years for a leader who we believe will keep his promises.
When Patrick delivers on this promise to fix the historic problems of the human service provider sector and its workforce, he will in fact be proving that those who put their faith and trust, in him in 2006 and 2010, made the right decision.
Gary Blumenthal is the President and Chief Executive Office of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers. He was appointed by President Barack Obama, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to the National Council on Disability in 2009.