Traffic along Bird Road slowed to a crawl Thursday morning. Blaring horns and rally cries could be heard echoing over the creeping vehicles around SW Tenth Street, long before the cause had come into view.
The pink coquina façade of the International Bank was obscured by an ocean of umbrella-waving, furious mothers. Somewhere in the bank, the office of Speaker of the House Marco Rubio sat empty. The women surged onto the steps, blocking the entrance to the building, only to have a pair of West Dade police officers gently escort them back to the sidewalk. They trickled forward again, like the tide.
The cops looked miserable – painfully sympathetic. When I approached one officer and asked how many times he had moved the protesters, he shot me a hunted look. “Why are you fucking with me, bro?” he asked.
A cacophony of indignant Spanish came out of a small bullhorn as a line of women begged the absent Rubio to allocate “rainy day” funds for the home and community services funded by state-supplied Medicaid money. The funding is used to provide home and community care for individuals with developmental disabilities, including nurses at home, transportation, and educational, recreational and social programs.
The money, they fear, is being used to plug the state’s deficit of more than $100 million while there are more than 13,000 families on the wait list to receive such funding.
The rally itself had been organized primarily by the companies that provide services to the families. The crowd did include several of the patrons, however.
“They wanna take money from us,” said Miriam Gil, a 40 year old woman who spoke slowly and walked with a slight hunch. Miriam, who said she was retarded, lives with her parents in Hialeah. Her father, a 75 year-old printer, continues to work to pay for her care. Miriam is extremely functional. Gina Martinez, a short raspy-voiced Medicaid Waiver Provider, stroked Miriam’s hair as she spoke. Martinez takes Miriam to frequent chiropractic appointments, ceramics classes, and social events with other developmentally disabled individuals.
“Without the money,” Mirmiam said, “I’m going to just stay home all day.”
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This is a different situation, cried 71 year-old Caridad Rodriguez, indicating her 40 year old son, who hung his head and held her hand as she spoke.
“My son has behavioral problems,” she cried. “He’s destructive and self-destructive. My Medicaid waiver gives me money to hire someone to be in our house every day. If they take that away, what am I going to do? I’m old.”
Rubio was in Tallahassee and missed the protest, which ended at noon. He could not be reached for comment. In a press release, Rubio cited an expanding deficit, and alluded to the changes as necessary and progressive. “Our responsibility is to put policies in place that help families and assure that state funds are used wisely to benefit the greatest number of people,” the release explained. “To accomplish this goal, the House budget adds more than $100 million in additional funds in order to cover the deficit and provide services to about 300 more people.”
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) is running at a deficit left by the administration of Jeb Bush. Governor Charlie Crist has asked that the House of Representatives “fully fund the deficit,” according to Kathy Torain, Crist’s deputy press Secretary. “He knows that the senate president and house speaker will do the right thing,” she said. --Calvin Godfrey