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A Matter of Policy – An Invitation to Participate

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Monday, March 3rd, 2014 in Sacramento, California

For More Information go to http://www.thearcca.org/

Or call (916) 552-6619

My wife Terri and I have a law practice focused on improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities and their families. Many of our clients create what are called special needs trusts which are trusts specifically focused on enhancing the lives of persons with disabilities by preserving qualification for essential public benefits and supplementing those needs to provide services and opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. Over the past two decades we have learned by experience the value of professional management of these trusts by having management teams made of professional fiduciaries, corporate trustees, care managers, financial advisors, pooled trusts and other private social service professionals. We believe that any attorney that practices in this area of law and is invested in the welfare of their clients must eventually come to the conclusion that the management system of the special needs trust is the single greatest issue as to whether the special needs trust will meet its objectives. Therefore it is imperative that not only the attorney be knowledgeable about the policies, programs and benefit systems that serve persons with disabilities, but that those who manage the special needs trust also possess that knowledge to serve this community.

Something that very much bothers me is the division between the disability policy makers and the professionals that establish and manage special needs trusts. I see myself not a passive player in the disability community but instead as a stakeholder. As a stakeholder in the disability community that advises and advocates for the needs of persons with disabilities I have dedicated my career to bridging the disconnect that is so pervasive between disability policy makers and the professionals that establish and manage special needs trusts.

Let me share with you my thoughts on how we as professionals need to increase our involvement in becoming active in the development and implementation of policies that affect many of the persons we serve. Additionally I want to offer my California colleagues a solid opportunity to improve their knowledge of our social service system and to advocate for improving the systems and policies that serve the needs of the persons with disabilities and their families that we serve. For my colleagues in other parts of the country, I want to urge you to locate your centers of influence for development and implementation of policies affecting persons with disabilities and their families in your state and become an active stakeholder in your state.

About the 7th Annual Public Policy Conference – March 3rd 2014

This is a conference sponsored by the Arc of California, United Cerebral Palsy in California, and the California Disability Services Association. There will be a variety of legislators, legislative staff, lobbyists and advocates in attendance. In addition, there will be the executive directors of many of the leading service providers in attendance from all over California. Attendees will have an opportunity to learn about the challenges California will be facing in the next year, as well as an opportunity to share with these persons and organizations of influence what we see is important to serve persons with developmental disabilities and the disabled community at large. I have attended at least five of these conferences and I learn something new every year. For many of these conferences I have been the only private attorney in attendance. Attendance and participation in this conference not only makes me a better advocate, it also helps my business. When I talk to clients about the challenges of providing resources to ensure the quality of life for their disabled loved ones I don’t focus entirely on preservation SSI and Medi-Cal. Instead I focus on the challenges to the system that we are going to supplement. I provide my clients and professional colleagues opportunities to be more involved with the agencies that directly influence their lives. In addition, I meet the leaders of many great service providers and I in turn pass these resources on to my clients and resource providers that I work with in my community. It distinguishes me from the documents sellers.

This year we are seeing a shift in challenges. Even though we are not facing direct budget cuts this year, programs are still horribly underfunded. Residential programs, day programs and attendant care providers are facing threats to their programs from changes in law and policy. These service providers have not had a rate increase for over a decade despite the rise in costs and mandates they must abide by. This effectively results in continual cuts. For example, the recent increase to the minimum wage and requiring that workers are paid overtime for work over 40 hours a week in California may threaten the stability of our present system. Even the Affordable Care Act and the requirement to provide health insurance is a huge challenge. Why? Even though all of these benefits to care providers are well deserved by the workers who deserve much more, they simply were not adequately budgeted for and could very well lead to closure of agencies that provide these essential services. We need to learn about these challenges and lobby our legislators to adequately fund the agencies that provide these services with an eye towards a fair wage and working conditions for the dedicated community workers who serve this vulnerable community.

Another major focus for disability policy makers is the closing the last of the Developmental Centers in California. Much of this process has been accelerated by the recent events at Sonoma Developmental Center and the failure of the systems that are supposed to detect abuse and report incidents to the proper authorities. While the closure of these antiquated institutions is definitely needed, the community programs simply do not have adequate resources to protect persons with disabilities in community programs. For example, it is not unusual for regional center case workers to have a caseload over 80. This is not case management and certainly with that sort of caseload it is not reasonable to expect these case workers to be making random safety checks of their clients. Even the best run programs in California do not have the resources to adequately provide the level of oversight to ensure the safety of the persons they serve.  We as social service professionals need to work as a team to share with each other what is happening in our system, and rather than wait until something horrible happens and our community service system be subject to sensational news stories as well as expensive lawsuits, we need to be proactive and work on solutions to strengthen the resources that protect this vulnerable population.

In turn, we as professionals that serve this community need to communicate with these policy makers the challenges that they may not be fully aware of. As many of us are aware our court systems are horribly underfunded and this has led to inefficiencies and delays that harm the disabled beneficiaries we serve. California’s conservatorship system is antiquated and in huge need of reform. The accounting laws in California are wasteful and inefficient. While accountability is certainly imperative, our present court system wastes the resources of the trusts and conservatorship accounts that we oversee, as well as increasing the burden on the courts and ultimately the tax payer. The sad fact is that in many ways the courts have become the new social service system, and we need to educate the policy makers about what we see and be part of the solution. We need reform, and we need to be part of the process.

The fact is that billions of dollars are being set aside annually in the trusts that we establish and manage. For trustees and care managers the majority of the leaders of the disability barely know we exist. For attorneys, we are often seen as document sellers and irrelevant as far as advocacy for the betterment of the needs of the disabled community. We certainly are not seen as stakeholders.

So here is my challenge to the legal, care manager, professional advisor and professional fiduciary be you a corporate fiduciary or private fiduciary.

Challege #1 – Attend the Conference

If you are an attorney, care manager, corporate or private fiduciary or advisor that establishes advices or manages special needs trusts or conservatorships, try to attend this conference. Learn what you can, find the policy makers and programs in your community and get involved. Take what you learn and share it with your clients, staff and colleagues. You will find a wealth of resources and it will make you a more effective advocate and will benefit your business. The work we do is honorable and very much needed. We need to integrate the services we provide with the disability community systems. Share with these policy makers that you can be a resource to them in the services we provide, and as a conduit of information to educate our communities and the persons we serve. There will be many challenges at the national, state and local level in the foreseeable future and with minimal effort you can be an effective advocate.

Challenge #2 – Lobby Your Professional Organization at the State and Chapter Level to Have a Presence

Show the legislators, legislative staff and policy makers that attend this conference that we exist, we are relevant, and we care. If you are a member of a professional organization such as PFAC (www.pfac-pro.org ),  NAPGCM (www.caremanager.org ), NAELA (https://www.naela.org ), or any other organization that advocates for professionals that this is an easy and cost effective way to be an active player in policies that affect our professions. Seriously consider becoming a sponsor and an exhibitor. There are many levels of sponsorship. While it would be wonderful to have some of these key organizations to become a sponsor at the highest levels, at the lowest level for only $500 your organization can have a table, be prominently listed as a sponsor and a supporter, and provide materials to the key disability organizations and policy makers that are going to influence laws and policies that will affect your practice. Here is an excerpt about the lowest level of sponsorship;

Exhibitor Sponsor: $500: The exhibitor sponsor will be highlighted during the closing reception and listed on the sponsor page of the program. In addition to promoting your business/service at an exhibit table, promotional materials will be included in the conference packet and are entitled to one ticket to attend the conference and the prevention luncheon at no cost.

Challenge #3 – Be a Stakeholder – Share What You Learn with your Colleagues and Communities

The Arc of California under the leadership of Tony Anderson, his staff as well as the board (for which I am a member) has done a remarkable job of increasing their influence at all levels of policy making throughout the state and even at a national level. As far as programs for persons with developmental disabilities are concerned, under Tony’s leadership the Arc of California has increased its influence and they are seeking partnerships with other key organizations. Being involved hopefully means more than attending an annual conference. The Arc of California has made it easy through their keep yourself up to date with policies that affect the beneficiaries you serve and your profession. For instance, Tony publishes a weekly memo called the Monday morning memo that will allow you in about 5 minutes to keep up with the key developments that affect your beneficiaries. See http://www.thearcca.org/2.html . In addition, consider being a sponsor to the conference. See http://www.thearcca.org/55.html

For More Information go to http://www.thearcca.org/ or Contact the Arc of California

The Arc of California,

1225 8th Street, Suite 350, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Office (916) 552-6619, Fax (916) 441-3494