Prioritizing people during a pandemic

Chiara Kim is a policy intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.

My non-verbal, autistic brother moved into a group home when he was 14. In the six years since, my family has been grateful for the services that state funding has helped provide. The residential staff, behavioral therapist, day program, and disability services all support vital parts of my brother’s everyday life. These services are important to my family because they ensure that my brother has access to resources that enhance his well-being and happiness. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic started escalating in Utah, my brother temporarily moved back to our house, joining our circle of quarantine because he is high risk. During this time, I realized just how vital the state-supported resources are to my family because it was extremely difficult for my parents to handle taking care of him. With the added challenge of my brother having bipolar disorder, taking care of him by ourselves was impossibly demanding, which showed me the importance of the social services we depend on. I also recognize that many others may depend on such services even more than we do. Thus, I firmly believe that it is vital that Utah maintains or increases social services funding in confronting the pandemic and its consequences. 

As already-vulnerable populations confront adversity magnified by the pandemic, it is paramount that we, as fellow Utahns, remain aware of their hardships and work to ameliorate them. The state government must continue to do its part in this by funding organizations and services that support those with disabilities. Utah state legislators passed a budget bill on June 18th that increased funding for social services by about 5% in comparison to last year. This was especially necessary in this time when people with disabilities require support services even more. 

Because the pandemic has had many negative impacts on those with disabilities, the amount of state support for disability services and organizations could mean the difference between promoting and limiting the well-being of many Utahns. For example, because school and day programs that used to occupy most of my brother’s time were cancelled, his group home staffing had to be increased to support the prolonged period of time that he and his housemates started spending at home. Disability services thus increased funding for their residential services to accommodate this need. Such facilities bolster the quality of life of those they serve, and must be funded during the pandemic and beyond to support the physical and mental health of people with disabilities.  

The state legislature’s 5 percent increase in social-service funding is a step in the right direction. But it will have to be maintained, or even raised, if another wave of the virus hits, as well as after June 30, 2021, when the budget bill containing this increase expires. If the legislature reconvenes over budget negotiations, they must allocate funding to uplift people who have experienced disproportional hardships during the pandemic — particularly, people with disabilities and others who depend on social services. Helping vulnerable populations navigate the destructive effects of the pandemic directly underlies the state’s duty to act for and protect the people. Providing services now could help prevent current challenges from snowballing into larger crises later. 

Thus, as Utah transitions into the “new normal” stage of the pandemic, we must prioritize social services in the state budget. Increasing support for vulnerable communities can contribute to their well being and connection to society. Coming out of the pandemic, it is especially important to uplift the mental health and spirit of all Utahns, to constitute a “new normal” that encompasses more support for those who need it.

Chiara Kim is a policy intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.

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