As the State Representative for Maine House 66 (parts Raymond, Casco and Poland) I have written to you before. You might remember I often expressed my faith as a guiding force and also the core values of conservatism. I have used both in raising a family and so to me it makes sense to approach governing the "big family of Maine" in a similar way, using the same values. From those core values I tend to believe government should be as small as possible. The issues government has taken and made worse are the subject of many other articles, but today I will focus on how we support people with special needs (feel free to insert senior citizens and veterans here as well).
I am the Executive Director of the Maine Statewide Independent Living Council (Maine SILC). Maine SILC is a federal creation, a body that advocates for the most independent living for all Maine citizens. (note each state has a SILC). In my work and in my time in the Maine Legislature I have seen where people who are disable, with special needs are not prioritized. They are underfunded and at times expected to be on "wait lists" to gain necessary services and supports.
People with special needs don't have high paid lobbies speaking to the politicians and often can not even advocate in Augusta or locally for themselves given their situation. Let me tell you about two people I know.
I recently attended a conference with Rep. Dale Crafts. He was injured 30 or more years ago and so is in a wheelchair. He was told he would not have more than his one child (he now has six) and I am sure he was told he would simply be taken care of. Dale was not raised that way. Today he owns multiple businesses, has served into a fourth legislative term and is both an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities while challenging these same people to be all they can be. Having spent four days with Dale recently, I can tell you he wakes up (4 a.m. ugh...) with a smile and ready to go. He also goes to sleep satisfied that he used the whole day. I have to mention Dale's faith in God is clearly a motivator for him. Dale could be cruising in life at this point, but we actually ended up struggling to keep up with him at the recent conference.
Cindy is someone I do not know as well. She was a nurse and self-sufficient.
However she began to suffer from ALS-(amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) like symptoms (Cindy's disease is not killing her like ALS does but has affected her body) and was placed in an institution. Cindy is self-sufficient, but just needed some help in figuring out this new way of life. She took another blow when her closest friend, who also supported her suddenly passed away. Cindy seemed trapped in her body and trapped in an institution. Meeting Cindy you fall in love with her spark, her humor and boy does she love the Yankees! Cindy did not accept her fate and against strong doctor's advice she was able to get into the community. Cindy is trapped in her body, but her wheelchair does allow her to be somewhat mobile, she lives in a nice apartment. However, Cindy is not funded enough to get the support needed for her to move about the community. Cindy wants to use her experience to show others how to be self-sufficient, Maine does not support her enough to get her to leave her apartment.
If you work with, or even just spend time with people who are disabled and have special needs you see that many want to work, want to help their communities and (we joke) want to pay taxes. As we see our state grow older and wonder who is going to work all the jobs, people with disabilities are a hidden option not taken advantage of. My organization, Maine SILC is currently working on a required 3-year Maine State Plan for Independent Living (Maine SPIL). We are trying to contact as many people in Maine who have special needs (estimated at 10 percent or more of our population). We will hold public forums statewide to get their feedback as to what is working and what is not. All this information will help us create a state plan. You the reader can help right now. We have a survey going now online and until April 22, 2016. Please share this link with your family, your friends, your church, and anywhere people with disabilities might be (which is everywhere). The link is www.mainesilc.org and you click on the Maine SILC Disability Survey. It has 29 questions, most multiple choice. You also can contact me to ask questions or invite Maine SILC to speak to your group. Thank you for your help in this.
Rep. Mike McClellan
Maine House 66
Parts Raymond, Casco and Poland