Disability services differ by ‘race and place,’ report finds

The system, which is responsible for making sure California adults with developmental disabilities receive essential services, is plagued by sharp disparities in spending by race, ethnicity and location, according to a report released Wednesday by a disability advocacy group.

Disability Voices United’s report, titled “A Matter of Race and Place,” builds on long-standing concerns about racial disparities at Regional Centers – a system of non-profit organizations responsible for coordinating services for developmentally disabled children and adults. It also highlights dramatic disparities in spending between centers serving different parts of California.

“We shouldn’t have 21 different ways people get services,” said Judy Mark, president of Disability Voices United, who is also a parent of an adult cared for by a regional center. “It shouldn’t be based on where you live or what your race or ethnicity is.”

Regional centers provide assistance under contracts with the California Department of Development, which has invested tens of millions of dollars in recent years to try to fill racial and ethnic gaps in spending. Earlier this year, legal advisory group Public Counsel found that racial disparities in spending on child and youth services persist.

The report, released on Wednesday, found similar problems in spending for adults with developmental disabilities. And in most regional centers, disparities in spending between Latinos and white adults have worsened over time, the report concluded.

The Department of Developmental Services said it welcomed the report and “made it a priority to address these discrepancies in a thoughtful and systematic way.”

“Although important progress has been made in recent years, there is still much room for improvement,” the department said in a statement.

Amy Westling, executive director of the Assn. of Regional Center Agencies, said a number of factors drive spending levels at the centers, including whether they support many people with more costly needs who used to live in government-run centers, different caps on the rates the centers pay for Paying Services and Challenges Finding easily accessible services in areas without big cities.

Some regional centers have argued that spending gaps are the result of cultural differences in whether adults live at home with their families rather than in more expensive facilities, the report says. But among adults living at home, Disability Voices United still found disparities in how much regional centers spent on clients of different races and ethnicities.

The Lanterman Regional Center, which serves an area that includes central LA, Hollywood, Glendale and Pasadena, had the state’s largest dollar dollar gap — $8,561 in fiscal 2020-2021 — in average adult spending per person racial and ethnic groups living at home were, with Latinos getting the least, the report found.

Lanterman chief executive Melinda Sullivan said in a statement that the regional center understands there are concerns about the disparity and is taking the time to carefully review the report. The center “will continue our efforts to improve the level of service for all Lanterman families and individuals regardless of race or ethnicity,” she said.

In Southern California, racial disparities in dollar spending for adults living at home were also particularly evident in the North Los Angeles and Orange County regional centers, the report found. At a news conference, Claudia Rivera said that the Orange County Regional Center had repeatedly turned her down in order to receive many services for her two sons with disabilities.

Her 29-year-old son has been repeatedly lost for days or even weeks, Rivera said, and the only help her family’s regional center has provided is 30 hours of respite care per month — someone to temporarily watch her son at home.

“It was really difficult for me. I even wanted to die if he gets lost because I don’t know what to do,” Rivera told reporters through an interpreter in Spanish.

Larry Landauer, executive director of the Orange County Regional Center, said he couldn’t comment on individual customers, but said what the Orange County parents described was “unacceptable.” Landauer said his center investigated inequalities and engaged in “intensive case management” for Latino clients who had received little or no services.

“We were always under trained [state law]to say, ‘What does this person need?’” he said.

Mark criticized a “culture of no” in regional centers that is easier to combat for those with more resources, including white families and English speakers. Fernando Gomez, a parent and co-founder of Integrated Community Collaborative, said, “The system is just so difficult to navigate.”

Westling, whose association represents regional centers across California, said the group’s analysis found that the regional centers’ total spending on Latinos and Asians living with their families was “only slightly below average” compared to white adults , and that spending on white and black adults living with their families was similar. Mark said their new analysis differed by examining individual centers rather than nationwide numbers.

The report also noted that “where you live is just as important as your race.” Some centers spend much more per person than others, Disability Voices United found. Among them was the Westside Regional Center, which serves western and coastal portions of Los Angeles County.

The Westside Regional Center spent an average of more than $30,000 on each adult resident at home – nearly three times as much as the San Diego Regional Center, which averaged less than $11,000 on each adult resident at home, according to the Report.

Mark pointed out that Latino adults who live at home and are served by Westside don’t get as much on average as their white counterparts, but they do get more services in other regional centers than “almost any other adult who lives at home.” lives – regardless of race”.

Disability Voices United also found “huge disparities” in the regional centers’ spending on supporting adults living apart from their families in their own localities. The Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center spent an average of more than $80,000 on each of these customers, compared to about $14,000 per customer at the Inland Regional Center, which serves customers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the report found. And the report also found large center-to-center variations in adult spending in residential settings.

Disability Voices United argued that the California Legislature and Department of Developmental Services need to increase oversight and accountability for regionally disparate centers to address the injustices, including a re-evaluation of individual plans for clients in unfair centers to determine if more services should be approved .

It also called on state lawmakers to hold accountability for money spent addressing injustices and to target state grants to geographic areas and groups most affected by inequalities.

The Department of Developmental Services said it has commissioned Georgetown University to evaluate its scholarship program to ensure the money is being used for effective efforts to eliminate inequalities, among other things. The department added that although the cost of services varies from region to region, a new program that would add $2.1 billion for supportive services through 2024-25 has sought to minimize those disparities.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-27/california-race-and-place-spending-on-adults-with-disabilities Disability services differ by ‘race and place,’ report finds

Alley Einstein

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