Candidates discuss helping people with disabilities during forum

Michelle Heid, right, Disability Community Advocate moderates as the panel of candidates prepare to answer questions from the audience during the Candidates Forum Sponsored by the North Los Angeles County Regional Center and co-sponsor Family Focus Resource Center which was held at City of Santa Clarita's Activity Center in Santa Clarita on Thursday, October 11, 2018. (Photo by Dan Watson)

About 70 local constituents came to the North Los Angeles County Regional Center’s candidates’ forum on Thursday, where the candidates in Santa Clarita Valley races spoke about helping individuals with disabilities.

Topics discussed included the need for the federal and state budgets to prioritize the health care of local people with disabilities.

In attendance were Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale; 38th Assembly District Assemblyman Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita; Acosta’s challenger Christy Smith; 36th Assembly District Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale; Lackey’s challenger Steve Fox and Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park. Stern attended in place of Knight’s 25th Congressional District challenger Katie Hill, who was not present.

For two hours, local constituents asked candidates to respond to concerns about eliminating health care protections through repeal of the Affordable Care Act, their personal worries that the Regional Center would lose funding and curiosity about what the candidates had in mind.

“The Republicans and Democrats have been working together to fix health care,” Knight said in response to criticisms of his votes for repealing the ACA. “People don’t realize we’re working on options such as making more accessibility and capability for veterans to go into urgent care in their community, access to prescription meds… We’re trying not to do a big bill that will overtake everything.

“Medicare is for the elderly, pregnant woman and disabled,” he said. “If you expand it ‘for all,’ you’re going to possibly put populations for which Medicare is funded, as not a priority. Congress is working on that and trying to help people.”

Stern criticized his party’s handling of the state budget and how he believed it had failed to prioritize the community with disabilities. He also said that elected officials needed to be less afraid of disagreeing with their party on the federal and state levels.

“Sometimes, the party you’re in is wrong,” he said. “There is some very well-founded criticism of the leadership in Sacramento, that is led by Democrats. We need a bipartisan forum where we can start to generate solutions. And I’m worried what will happen in Congress if we don’t see change. If we repeal Obamacare we’ll be in a world of hurt.”

Lackey, a former special education teacher, spoke of his optimism for better funding in the next legislative year.

“Studies are going to reveal the disparity that exists in prioritizing this community, where this community has been too easy to bury in the past,” he said. “The federal and state governments have to work together, and the votes are what’s needed. The votes are needed to support the funding.”

Fox spoke of understanding the needs of the community with disabilities through his background of being a junior high teacher and his present work as an attorney.

“From an educational and legal standpoint, we do need change,” he said. “Exposing is one thing, but getting people to recognize this and buy in is another thing. I promise you you’ll have a reliable ally in supporting the funding that needs to happen for a population that is deserving.”

Smith said her experience on the Newhall School District board had led her to see the “needs were real.” She spoke about advocating through supporting a budget in the Assembly that would prioritize the community.

“My takeaway is there is a lot of work to be done, particularly as we look at a 2019 reassessment of reimbursement rates in a number of these programs,” she said. “What needs improvement in this community is to understand that many programs have been restored to pre-recession levels, but these programs have not.”

Smith paralleled incentives for medical practitioners to focus on family practice care to incentives for entry-level teachers to teach in low-income communities through their student loans being written down over time.

“We absolutely need to be incentivizing medical care providers to be doing that in the state, to provide care for Medi-Cal recipients,” she said.

Acosta talked about legislation that he’d worked on to bridge the gaps for employment pay for those with disabilities and his commitment to securing funding in the next session.

The assemblyman talked about Assembly Bill 2244, which failed in the state appropriations committee but would have created an expedited review process of a health and safety waiver request in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system.

“It’s all about priorities and funding priorities in California,” he said. “In the two years I’ve been in the Legislature, I’ve sponsored bills to help this community and they are so often neglected. I’ll continue to do that. The No. 1 thing I heard tonight was: Don’t forget us. And I promise I won’t.”

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