Wisconsin budget cuts translate to fear for IRIS program patients

44 years old and born with cerebral palsy, Ramsey Lee has a Master's Degree in Business Administration, and serves on two different boards advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. Lee depends on around the clock care from 7 personal care attendants.

These days Lee is highly concerned about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget, which includes $14.25 million in cuts to the states's expanding Family Care Program. Expanding to program would mean eliminating other long-term care services, including the program Lee uses called IRIS. More than 11,000 people across Wisconsin use IRIS.

Brad Beckman, Administrator of Aging and Disability Resource Center says "St. Croix County had 240 individuals enrolled in IRIS in 2014, which is one of the highest referral rates in Wisconsin." The appeal for people like Lee is avoiding group homes, and remaining independent, living in their own homes, and hiring their own care givers.

"It allows people with disabilities to make their own decisions," says Lee.

But now a group called Save Iris has been launched. Various advocates are sending out letters statewide warning the new long term care program being proposed is not what many thought it would be. It's unclear if current services ranging from transportation to personal hygiene will remain the same.

"It's very important, taking away someone's independence.. to them it's devastating," says Lee's personal care attendant, Susan Cannata. "You know everyone has their dependence, and it's just not right just because they have a disability, they don't get to have a say or a choice. And to me that just doesn't seem right because they deserve their choice just like we do."

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said in a statement:

"Members will still be able to self-direct their long-term care, and the Department of Health Services would require all contracted organizations to provide self-direction as an option for people in this new model. DHS would need to seek federal authority to implement these changes and more information about what a self-direction option would look like under this model would be worked out through that waiver negotiation process. The Department would begin working through the process upon the passage of the budget."

For Ramsey that translates to fear of the unknown. Without a clear plan he feels his independence is at stake.

"If someone came into your home… you would want to have some say in what they do wouldn't you?"

Lee says he is speaking out about this for himself, but more importantly for roughly 11,000 other people who will be affected. Many people will start gathering at meetings next month to make their voices heard. The meetins will provide up to date information about the State Budget in Wisconsin and how it will affect individuals with disabilities and their families.

March 2

First Presbyterian Church
1901 Vine St.
Hudson, WI 54603
5:00 - 9:00 PM

March 2

Madrigrano Auditorium,
Gateway Technical College
3520 20th Ave.
Kenosha, WI 5 3140
1:00 PM

March 3

Lake Street Methodist
337 Lake Street
Eau Claire, WI 54703
6:00 - 8:30 PM

March 5

Vaughn Library
502 W. Main St.
Ashland, WI 54806
2:30 - 4:00 PM

March 6

Sage Hall
835 High Ave.
Oshkosh, WI 54901
6:30 - 8:30 PM

March 11

Superior Public Library
1530 Tower Ave.
Superior, WI 54880
2:30 - 4:00 PM

March 12

Rice Lake Public Library
2 East Marshall St.
Rice Lake, WI 54868
4:30 - 6: 00 PM

March 12

Disability Rights Wisconsin
Lower Conference Room
6737 W Washington, St
Milwaukee, WI 53214
4:30 - 6:30 PM