Eastern Iowans to legislators: 'Keep doing what is right' on mental health, disability redesign

Senator hopes to gain support for workshop shift to Iowa Workforce Development

Eastern Iowans who need some help with daily life reminded legislators to keep them in mind when the session opens next week.

"Let's just keep pushing the envelope forward, and keep doing what is right," Steve Miller told about a half-dozen lawmakers Thursday afternoon.

Miller, of Cedar Rapids, a county, state, and national board member for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, helped the Johnson and Linn Counties Disability Coalition organize the forum in North Liberty for lawmakers who will shortly begin the next steps in redesigning how Iowa provides mental health and developmentally disabled (MHDD) services.

Funding for supported employment services cost Ron Harris, 37, his job at Goodwill in Cedar Rapids, where he'd worked 15 years, said his mother, Shirley Harris. Instead, Ron Harris was shifted to a day-habilitation activities program.

"I appreciate the day hab, but he needs to do more," said Shirley Harris. "We can't take away one option without giving them another."

State Sen. Rob Hogg said he hopes to shift state support for sheltered workshops from MHDD programs to Iowa Workforce Development.

"Do you just want to have a welfare program, or do you want to have a work program that's productive?" said Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.

The answers to other residents' concerns will take longer to sort out. Terry Cunningham of Iowa City said just getting to North Liberty was a challenge for those who need special transportation services.

"If there's no transportation system, how are they going to get those services?" said Cunningham, 59, who's used a wheelchair since a traffic accident in high school severed his spinal cord.

Cunningham, who works part-time at the University of Iowa's  Center for Disabilities and Development, said Medicaid covers his transportation services as well as in-home help with daily tasks such as cooking and dressing himself.

"If I didn't have that, the next step is an institution" at far more cost to the state, Cunningham said.

"One of the things I'm trying to do is, simplify the legislative issues," said Hogg. "What we need is some tangible decision points, and that's my job."

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