Provincial budget cuts could bring change for disabled

Lethbridge residents rallied at Civic Park Wednesday afternoon to protest provincial budget cuts.

The provincial government is proposing that 40 million dollars of funding be cut from programs that help people with disabilities.

But those on the receiving end of the cut won’t go without a fight.

Hundreds gathered in Lethbridge’s Civic Park Wednesday afternoon for a ‘Rally for Reason’ against the provincial government.

Parents, caregivers, disability service workers and those with disabilities themselves showed up by the dozens to raise their voice against budget cuts to Community Access Programs (CAP).

“We have a history, in this industry of being caregivers, of rolling with the punches and just saying ‘Oh well, we will make do,’ ” said Jim Cherewick, who helped to organize the Lethbridge rally. “But these budget cuts are so severe I felt it was incumbent that we take some drastic action.  So that is just what we’re going to do. ”

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The government proposed to cut around 40 million dollars of funding to programs that help incorporate persons with disabilities into the community. The provincial funding comes through Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD).  It’s used daily by almost 11 hundred Southern Albertans.

If the budget cuts are approved, that would mean almost half of the program’s funding will disappear by July and many would lose not only their jobs, but their freedom as well.

“If I lose PDD, my quality of life is not even a 50 per cent reduction, that is optimistic.  It’s a 99 per cent reduction on my quality of life,” said Ryan Gerstenbuhler, a Lethbridge resident who relies on the program for wheelchair accessible transportation.

Alberta Liberal MLA Kent Hehr spoke at a protest in Calgary Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s public pressure that is going to change this and hold the government to account,” he said. “My hope is that people out there find this as disgusting and unacceptable as I do.”

Over 10 thousand Southern Alberta residents use PDD services daily, for everything from recreational activities to a ride around town.  If the proposed budget cuts are approved, the new budget will be in effect July 1.

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