By Beth Swedeen, Executive Director
On Feb. 20, Governor Scott Walker introduced his 2013-2015 State Budget Proposal. While that event is significant – the Governor’s budget proposal is probably the single most important bill in Wisconsin – BPDD has been hard at work advocating for people with disabilities in the next state budget for months. And this is just the beginning.
For the past year, BPDD has been working with other disability community partners to identify our budget priorities for the next biennium. As part of the Survival Coalition, we worked on a dozen budget priorities that ranged from expanding Family Care/IRIS statewide to increasing special education and children's long-term care funding. We contributed to positions on transportation, employment, wages for direct care workers, and more. Meanwhile, we also put together our own BPDD budget platform, and also worked with People First Wisconsin to develop the 2013-2015 WI Self-Advocate State Budget. Both of these tools have been used by disability advocates to highlight the issues important to them when meeting with policymakers.
Since December, we’ve been working closely with our DD Network partners at Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Waisman Center to make sure the needs of people with disabilities and their families are heard by legislators when the Legislature addresses the state budget. We’ve developed policy papers about special needs vouchers, special education funding, children’s long-term supports, Family Care & IRIS expansion, and employment. A paper about Medicaid will be available soon. These policy papers are designed to be tools for advocates to use when visiting with their legislators.
BPDD conducted a series of state budget trainings around the state in February and March. The series, From Info to Action: State Budget Trainings for Disability Advocates, provided advocates with the information and tools they need to have an impact on the state budget. The trainings were held in Eau Claire, Hudson, La Crosse, Sheboygan, Oshkosh, and Grafton. People who attended learned about the state budget process and also about important issues that will be addressed in the state budget. Participants also received an Advocacy Toolkit, which included fact sheets about disability issues, a legislative directory, tips about how to contact your legislator, and more.
Now that the budget is out and the trainings are over, it’s time for real grassroots advocacy! We’ve already seen this with local groups organizing press events to voice their concerns about special needs vouchers, which Gov. Walker included in his budget. Last week was another great opportunity for advocates to make a difference by participating in the Survival Coalition’s Disability Advocacy Day. On Mar. 20, over 400 disability advocates from around the state converged on the Capitol to meet with their legislators and discuss the issues that they care about.
Once the Joint Finance Committee starts holding public hearings, advocates will have even more opportunities to speak up, and BPDD will do everything possible to make sure the disability community has a voice. If you don’t already ‘Like’ BPDD on Facebook or receive DAWN Alerts, sign up now so you can stay up-to-date with all upcoming advocacy opportunities. In the meantime, BPDD will continue to work with our partners so people with disabilities have a voice in the state budget.