Jun 17 2013
Disabled cuts won’t hit $42M, minister says

Alberta’s human services minister said Tuesday that agencies offering  services for the disabled may have some breathing room as a plan to revamp  programming continues to draw fire from the public.

Public meetings in recent weeks have attracted hundreds of people upset about  the government’s plans to slash $42 million from the Persons with Developmental  Disabilities programs.

During a meeting with the Herald editorial board, Human Services Minister  Dave Hancock said cuts to PDD’s community access program won’t reach $42 million  as stated in the 2013-14 provincial budget.

“We’re not going to hit $42 million, there’s no question about that,” said  Hancock.

The veteran Tory minister also said contracts with service providers would  not end on June 30. Instead, service providers will likely be offered contract  extensions to Sept. 1 as discussions continue with the government, Hancock  said.

“What we want to do is to keep people at the table with the discussions,” he  said. “We’re not going to issue a contract that says we can do this year the  same as we did last year.”

Overall, the PDD budget received a slight increase to $694 million from $688  million over the previous year.

But the government shuffled a portion of the money from the community access  program to staff raises as previously promised by the premier.

Hancock acknowledged that the government’s handling of cuts to the program  has been poorly communicated.

“It wasn’t our intention to scare the hell out of anybody,” said Hancock. “It  was our intention that people were already on this pathway and understood the  change much better than it appears they did.”

The government has hosted a series of public meetings in recent weeks to  address the issue, including a botched meeting at the Bowness Legion in  Calgary.

That meeting got off to a rough start when several people with disabilities  were prevented from attending the session due to a lack of wheelchair access to  the second floor in the Legion.

“They understand this is a contentious issue, they understand that people are  worried and concerned,” said Liberal critic Kent Hehr, who is wheelchair  bound.

“Yet with all the resources in the ministry, they can’t figure out whether a  place is going to be wheelchair accessible or not,” Hehr said. “It just piles on  to the screw-up of this file.”

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