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Commentary Government & Politics

Zucker & Peña-Melnyk: Now Is the Time to Support Our Children and Families With Disabilities

Stock.adobe.com photo by Stillfx.

By Craig J. Zucker and Joseline Peña-Melnyk

The writers are, respectively, a senator representing Montgomery County and a delegate representing Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. Both are Democrats.

This 90-day convening of the legislature is our collective opportunity is to provide relief, support and hope for Marylanders.

That support and relief must include children with developmental disabilities and their families.

We are fortunate in Maryland to have many programs designed to benefit and provide assistance for families and children with developmental disabilities, including but not limited to those on the autism spectrum.

These waiver programs that offer life-changing assistance and support include the Community Pathways Waiver; Community Supports Waiver; Family Supports Waiver; Brain Injury Waiver; Home and Community Based Options Waiver; Medical Day Care Waiver; Model Waiver; and Autism Waiver. The waivers provide, but are not limited to, assistive technology services, family caregiver training, transportation, case management assistance, and advocacy supports.

However, with the growing need for help, and the lack of opening slots for these services, the wait for these programs has grown.

On average, for some of these essential programs, like the one supporting children on the autism spectrum, more than 6,000 children are waiting for services. On average, a child must wait eight years before services are available, due to the lack of funding. That means, for children who are signed up for the Autism Waiver at age 11, they will be aging out of the program by the time they receive services.

Anywhere, but especially in Maryland, this is unacceptable.

That is why we, along with Senate Budget and Tax Chair Guy Guzzone (D-Howard) and House Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), as well as other leaders in the Senate and House, have proposed legislation to end the wait.

Senate Bill 636/House Bill 1403 — the End the Wait Act — aims to reduce the wait for these vital waiver services by at least 50%, hiring more providers and expanding these programs.

If passed, this will be the most consequential legislation supporting these programs since their inception.

Our most precious and vulnerable populations have waited long enough. It is time to end the wait.