Scott Wilk: Options for individuals with disabilities

[This opinion editorial was originally published in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal]

We often talk about how important democracy is because all are allowed to have their voices heard and concerns taken seriously.

It is the essence of a just and caring society to listen to problems and make certain they are represented fairly and equally in our laws.

However, there are segments of our population whose voices too often go unheard, and whose concerns are regularly overlooked.

I believe in sensible budgeting and smaller, smarter government. However, I also believe it is the duty of the government to focus its limited resources in a responsible way on those who truly need our support.

The developmentally disabled make up one of these groups whose voice is often lost. And as a member of the California Assembly, I recognize they deserve legislative attention and time — just as much as any other group.

In my own efforts to uphold this principle, I was a co-author of Assemblyman Tom Lackey's Assembly Bill 1565.

After more than $1 billion in cuts and a continuing downward trend for funding to the Department of Developmental Services, AB 1565 called for a modest increase to fund these programs by 10 percent.

Moreover, this measure recognizes that the Legislature made a promise to fund the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act.

Signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan, this act protects the opportunity for more than a quarter-million fellow Californians with developmental disabilities to live independent, fulfilling lives.

Thankfully, the Legislature made good on its promise this year. Just last month the Legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, a measure to secure funding to improve services for the developmentally disabled and prevent the closure of skilled nursing facilities throughout the state.

Last year, the Legislature made strides in crafting an inclusive policy like this that responsibly addresses the needs of this population who frequently seem invisible to so many.

I was principal co-author of two such bills: Assembly Bill 449 and Senate Bill 324, both of which passed through the state Legislature and were signed by the governor.

Together, the bills created the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which solved a common financial problem people with disabilities had but was never brought to public attention.

The measure allows a special savings account to be opened where they can save money for disability-related expenses, but not risk eligibility for Social Security or other government programs – similar to 529 education savings plans.

I have a family member with disabilities, and legislation like the Lanterman Act and ABLE Act greatly effect his family's life on a daily basis.

However, the other half of supporting this group of citizens is raising awareness and getting helpful resources to them and their families so they can utilize the legislation.

In recognition of April being Autism Awareness Month, I would like to invite professionals, parents and caregivers to a workshop — Transition to Independence: Options for Individuals with Disabilities.

Hosted alongside Sen. Sharon Runner, the session will focus on transitioning into adulthood and learning about what is available for young adults with developmental disabilities after high school.

The event will be held at the Santa Clarita Activities Center on April 23 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sponsored by Family Focus Resource Center and Advanced Behavioral Pathways, it will include a host of topics and speakers ranging from vocational and employment options to independent living skills.

To RSVP and check the official schedule of speakers and topics, please visit the publicly accessible Facebook page: Transition to Independence.

By supporting and listening to those who need our support, we will ensure their voices do not go ignored and concerns unnoticed. Please join me on April 23.