MOUTHMagNews dateline April 4, 2003


Two more states join Ohio in repeal of Independent Living

The governors of Alaska and Minnesota in March submitted budgets to their state legislatures which zero out Independent Living entirely. They join Ohio's Bob Taft in removing any semblance of “consumer control” from state operations in regards to people with disabilities. Texas has done the same — on a slightly smaller scale: a fifty percent cut to IL.

     Response from the IL centers and state Councils so far? Silence. Except in Texas, where Adapt's Bob Kafka and Stephanie Thomas — no fans let alone employees of CILs, are attempting to rally the IL troops.

     Perhaps SILCs and IL centers think state legislatures will defend them? Mouth hopes they think again, and consider the crowds of other “special interests” setting up a howl around capitol buildings across the nation as the effect of rich-get-richer tax cuts makes itself felt.

• • •  new mouth policy  • • •

Since news we can't understand is no use to us and probably not to you either, we will sit down, figure it out and tell you what really appears to be going on. Here's our first try.

Why would states kill independent living?

The fox guarding one of the henhouses set aside for chickens like us is RSA, the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration. You can't call this fox greedy or anything. It does have a litter of kits to worry about — Voc Rehab agencies, one in each state and territory. The kits, in turn, have mouths to feed — great groaning roomsful of college-educated don't-have-a-clue VR counselors, not to mention a slew of sheltered workshops, blind agencies, deaf agencies and similar they-mean-well enterprises, all depending on them for a meal. No surprise that the chickens take a licking.

In this parable, you are the chicken, a person with a disability in search of some advocacy and/or assistance. (Funny, isn't it, that the foxes call you a consumer since your income is below the poverty line, you can't even take the bus to get to a store, and it's the foxes doing the consuming around here.) It's all you can do to get out of the henhouse, for the godsake. But somehow you do, rushing around, frantic for some help, somebody to turn to who will believe in you and even take your side. The foxes look on, licking their chops patiently. What do you think for tonight, hon, roasted or fried?

One safe place

Ed Roberts and friends invented Centers for Independent Living and put them under consumer control  so the chickens could rule a safe little roost of their own somewhere. Too bad Congress — through the Rehab Act — puts about half the public funding for independent living under the control of the big fox, RSA. The rest is under the little foxes, the state VR agencies. Don't look now but they've got the roost surrounded.

No surprise that when governors ask state VR agencies to cut their budgets, VR literally grins, bears it, and sends Independent Living to the chopping block. Can't blame the foxes. Like everybody else, they've gotta eat.


Will NCIL have the cojones to sue its biggest funding source?

Pick one: Yes, No, Maybe.

Or pull a NCIL move and pick all three.

     They are victims of illegal acts by state Voc Rehab agencies, acts which could force these centers for independent living to close their doors. They are also dues-paying members of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL).

     Last year they asked NCIL to take legal action, to sue the RSA for enforcement of the law which protects them. Trouble is, NCIL gets about half its funding from RSA.

     By law, only RSA can enforce the Rehab Act, the federal law governing both Voc Rehab and Independent Living. IL is, theoretically, independent of VR. [See the fox and henhouse story, page left.] Trouble is, RSA recruits its henhouse guardians from state VR agencies. When one gets caught with a mouthful of feathers, RSA defends the fox.

     Not all NCIL's members are chickens, let alone saints. Some, however, take the Rehab Act literally and advocate for the liberation of people with disabilities. Some of those actual advocates came together last year as the Alliance for Compliance; Emma Sullivan of the Indianapolis CIL delivered their plea to NCIL's board in December. NCIL responded with an emphatic memo —“it is crucial that the spirit and congressional intent of Title VII of the Rehab Act be enforced.” It promised to confer with lawyers.

     Soon, though, it did an about-face, saying that since RSA hasn't yet attacked NCIL itself, it could not sue. (Lawyers Mouth knows say, “That's fox talk. Membership groups exist only to represent their members' interests.”) NCIL did say it would hire Baylor University to study Rehab Act enforcement—while good CILs are en route to the chopping block. Note that the new White House disability policy guru, Troy Justeson, went on record in January, saying that the only solution was for “somebody” to sue RSA.

     Then the March edition of Ragged Edge hit the streets, noting NCIL's about-face. Within days the organization doubled back to about-face again. In an “update” to members, director Ann-Marie Hughey said that she and its president, Mike Oxford, were seeing new lawyers with the “intent to pursue legal action against RSA.”

     Hughey also tossed out a handful of chickenfeed: NCIL has now rescinded an invitation for RSA Commissioner Joanne Wilson to speak at its conference this Spring. A web posting from the Alliance for Compliance called that “giving Wilson a Get Out of the Hot Seat Free card. l.g.

Read all about it on the web at