JEFFERSON CITY — Advocates and people with disabilities could be heard chanting, "What do we want? Independence. When do we want it? Now," in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday. Other similar chants erupted as representatives and people with disabilities urged Gov. Eric Greitens to sign House Conference Bill 3 into law.
Paraquad, a St. Louis nonprofit organization that advocates independent living for people with disabilities, and other organizations with similar missions rallied at the Capitol.
HCB 3 would affect those who use Consumer Directed Services, which include home-care attendants for people with disabilities. If Greitens fails to sign the bill into law, around 8,000 people could lose services such as help with bathing, cooking, cleaning and more. Ultimately, the loss of services could compromise some people's ability to remain independent.
The bill also would protect the "circuit breaker" tax break received by senior citizens who rent their homes. A compromise between the House and Senate prevented the tax break from ending, otherwise the savings would have been used to help pay for Medicaid home health care.
In order to qualify for Consumer Directed Services, a person must take a needs assessment and receive a rank of at least 21. The required number would climb to 24 if the bill doesn't become law.
A senator and several representatives showed support for the bill: Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and Reps. Nate Walker, R-Kirksville; Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood; Crystal Quade, D-Springfield; and Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis.
"One thing we know is that when the public comes out and when folks like you come out and say, 'Hey, look, we're real people that this affects,'" Silvey said, "that is the kind of thing that gets people's attention."
Suzan Weller from the Disability Resource Association in St. Louis said people losing access to their attendants could end up "clogging our hospitals" and then landing in long-term care facilities.
Tammy Teel doesn't want that to happen to her. Teel, who uses an electric wheelchair and has multiple sclerosis, wants to come off of disability and enter the workforce after completing her master's degree in counseling. She relies on an attendant to help her six hours each day, and that assistance may be cut to two hours if Greitens chooses to not sign the bill.
Greitens has until June 30 to sign the bill. Cathy Brown, director of public policy and advocacy for Paraquad, said she has tried to talk to the governor about the bill, but he hasn't responded.
"From the governor's office, it's been radio silent," Brown said. "They seem to be keeping a tight lid on plans relating to HCB 3."
The Missourian also reached out to Greitens' office Tuesday and received no response.
The silence worries those who could be impacted.
John Harris, who started using a wheelchair after suffering a spinal injury in a car accident in 1995, teared up as he spoke about the nine blood clots in his legs that were a result of having no help getting in and out of bed.
"This is just wrong," Harris said. "We're people, we're not numbers. He needs to stop and look at each individual.
"We all have lives, families, children. And if he does these cuts, we'll be put in homes. We need the help that we're given."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.