United Arc talks legislative advocacy at Coffee & Conversation

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-17-2023 12:10 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Legislative advocacy for parents with intellectual and developmental disabilities and increased funding for service workers were the focus of The United Arc’s virtual Coffee & Conversation event on Friday.

United Arc staff members were joined by a large delegation of legislators from around the state to talk about advocacy for H.1601, a proposed bill that would prohibit discrimination against adults with disabilities in court proceedings, and H.171, which would increase pay rates for workers supporting and serving individuals with disabilities. The bills have counterparts in the Senate, S.1037 and S.83.

Among those in attendance were Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield; Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol; Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton; Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer; and a representative from Sen. Paul Mark’s office, as well as several other legislators from around Massachusetts.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who co-sponsored S.1037, said numerous constituents have reached out to her about intellectual disability discrimination in the court system and it’s time laws be corrected.

“We need to make sure the laws on our books work for people, especially for families,” she said. “All parents have the right to raise their children and should only be limited by courts when there is a real risk of harm for their child.”

Lovely said parents with psychiatric disabilities are “26 times more likely to have their children removed from their home” and because of this, they are less likely to seek support services because it would disclose their disability and “could put their family at risk of separation.”

She asked the public to reach out to their representatives to request they support the bill, as well as submit written or oral testimony to the State House and Senate.

Following Lovely’s presentation, National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals President and CEO Joseph MacBeth shared some of the challenges the human services industry is facing. MacBeth was also appointed to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities by President Joe Biden in March 2022.

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“As fulfilling and as rewarding as it is, this is challenging work,” MacBeth said. “It is not entry-level work. It is one of the most challenging and sophisticated jobs I’ve had in my life.”

The average turnover rate in all sectors of the human services industry, he added, is “nearly 50%,” which creates challenges for those being served.

“People are coming and going out of people’s lives,” MacBeth said. “To reach those [positive] outcomes, people need to have relationships.”

In closing the event, United Arc CEO Fred Warren thanked the legislators and staff in attendance for their continued partnerships over the last year, especially as the agency continues to grow. The United Arc, founded in 1951 by Rita Marguerite Canedy and incorporated in 1960, serves clients living with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Worcester counties through its offices in Greenfield, Turners Falls, Holyoke and Athol.

“Because of the support we received from all of you, we’re optimistic for what the future holds for the sustainability of our organization,” Warren said. “Your efforts to help drive positive change affects those being served by and those working in human services organizations like The United Arc.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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