Advocates for people with disabilities talk to state lawmakers

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- With uncertainty surrounding changes to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and state funds, advocates for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities met with state lawmakers Monday.

"If Medicaid is cut at all these people will have no services," said Melanie Barbee, with The Enrichment Center board of directors. The center offers a variety of resources and programs to help adults with disabilities. "Any cuts, well that's a big deal because for someone with a disability -- it's a lifelong disability."

The Enrichment Center hosted the legislative reception to thank local and state elected officials for their support and to discuss concerns including possible future cuts and the need for more funding. Additional funds would help 3,000 people with disabilities across the state, many on waiting lists, needing facilities like The Enrichment Center.

"That wait list could be years, not 30 days, not 90 days, it could be five, 10 years," Barbee said. "While you wait in the meantime what are you doing? Nothing. What are their parents doing? They can't work because they are taking care of their adult with a disability."

Advocates believe state or federal cuts would force family members to quit their job to care for a loved ones, which would impact the economy.

"At The Enrichment Center -- it's about like a lifeline," said Noelle Nichols, who has been a student for 4 years now. "It has really changed my ego, made me think better of myself ... I don't put myself down anymore."

Lawmakers agreed services for those with disabilities need to grow and move forward, despite whatever funding changes may come.

"It's unacceptable to have that many people on a wait list," said NC Rep. Donnie Lambeth. "We need to have people address that regardless of what happens in Washington."

Lambeth says he will chair a legislative health care reform committee that will work with Washington lawmakers to push for continued funds while also preparing the state in the event cuts do come down.

To learn more about the policy needs of those who advocate for the disabled, visit The Arc of North Carolina.