After a review by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD), citing the current state-run P&A as out of compliance in December 2011, NY State conducted a series of public hearings to decide the future of the P&A system. As a result of much testimony from the disability community, the state agreed to move the Protection and Advocacy and Client Assistance Programs (P&A/CAP) to a non-state agency to ensure the development of a unified comprehensive, independent and aggressive legally based advocacy agency. A solicitation for applicants ensued.
Two applicants emerged from the process: Disability Advocates Inc. (DAI), a subcontractor of the state P&A for 30 years in the Albany area, and Syracuse University.
DAI had the support of over 20 statewide disability organizations and had the demonstrated experience, capacity and potential to expand into a P&A system resembling the rest of the country. DAI has been successful in several major class actions against the state and also provided extensive individual advocacy. Many DAI clients testified about their experience with DAI at the public hearing.
Syracuse University, to the surprise of the majority of the advocacy community, also weighed in. The University proposed a non-legal public awareness approach relying on law students and pro bono attorneys if and when needed. The University would immediately syphon upwards of 30% for the university indirect rate, removing these funds from direct service for any people with disabilities.
Despite what appeared to be a rather clear cut decision, the Governors office forced a 6 month negotiation behind closed doors in an attempt to forge a hybrid entity. Several structures emerged but were eventually rejected as being in violation of the DD Act and/or lacking in common sense.
Finally, nearly a year later, the Governor designated DAI as the P&A to take effect on June 1, 2013. A required public hearing is scheduled for April 9.
It appears that there is an effort to bring Syracuse back into a fight for a share of P&A resources. Such a move can only diminish the ability of people with disabilities in NY to receive independent aggressive legally based advocacy services in order to enrich the coffers of the University.
Over the years, the P&A system has retained its unique ability to engage in the full range of legal actions including class actions. These class actions have been an acknowledged factor in the ever decreasing institutionalization of people with disabilities. The system also has strong comprehensive access authority to enter into any facility where people with disabilities reside, work and learn. This access authority has enabled the P&As to document, prosecute and prevent countless cases of abuse and neglect over the years.
A petition is being circulated to ask Governor Cuomo to add Syracuse University to the designation. NDRN urges all disability groups to reject this plea and support the redesignation of an agency with a clear and established track record of advocacy and protection for the full range of people with disabilities.
That members of the disability community would attempt to deflect these rare and critical authorities and remedies and thereby to duplicate what already exists in other organizations (e.g. DD Councils, ILCs, and UCEDs) is perplexing if not appalling.Curt Decker