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Editorial: Finally, disabled can choose where to live

Updated: August 3, 2011 8:56PM

Most states recognized a long time ago that people with developmental disabilities are just like the rest of us.

They want to work. They want to choose where they live and with whom. And they don’t want to be cut off from the rest of society.

States that have seen the light have moved away from warehousing people with disabilities in large, residential facilities in favor of placing them in smaller, community-based settings.

Illinois, though, continues to rely heavily on institutional care for the disabled and the mentally ill, spending less per capita on community-based services than just about any other state.

We’re pleased, then, by the terms of a proposed settlement to a federal lawsuit that will force the state to do right by thousands of its disabled residents.

The settlement, expected to be approved today by a federal judge, would change the way the state pays for the care of adults with developmental disabilities.

Instead of allocating funds to large private facilities, the state would adopt a “money follows the person” model that will make it easier for people to choose where they live.

The agreement was reached in response to a class-action lawsuit filed in 2005 by people with disabilities who were denied requests to live in community settings.

What we like about this settlement is that it doesn’t force people who want to remain in institutions to move out. It simply makes it easier for the vast majority of people who would rather live in a smaller setting to do so.

Not only is providing community-based housing the right thing to do, it’s also cheaper. The Arc of Illinois estimates that it costs $192,000 a year to house someone in an institution, compared to $55,000 in a smaller setting.

For a state looking to cut costs wherever it can, spending less on expensive institutional care is imperative.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Over the past decade, state funding for community-based services for the disabled has not kept pace with demand.

Already, there are about 21,000 people statewide who have been waiting, sometimes as long as a decade, to receive services.

Having to resolve these complicated issues within the six-year time frame set by the court won’t be easy. But it’s absolutely necessary.

* This editorial has been corrected.

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