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Every other week I read that disability service providers are laying off employees and have stopped providing services in response to deep state budget cuts. The Department of Public Health and Human Services is ending contracts and reducing rates for providers.

I remember when people with developmental disabilities and mental illness were warehoused in institutions away from society. During the Kennedy administration, things began to change, but it was a struggle to get special education in the schools, home-training for parents to help their youngsters, group homes, job training and workforce programs. My daughter was a recipient of some of these services where she learned to read, work on a job and live independently. Doesn't everyone deserve a chance to reach their full potential?

Mentally ill people were moved out of institutional living, but we failed to provide community services. Many are living homeless on the streets, commit suicide, spend time in jail, and are suspended from school where teachers lack training to deal with mental illness. There is a shortage of psychiatrists and psychiatric crises centers in Montana. Mental health centers and youth services in rural communities are at risk to stay in full operation. Unfortunately, we experience mass shootings when youth do not get help at the significant time when they are hurting — under the anger is pain.

Beginning in 2008, Montana spent thousands of dollars to finance a demonstration project called wraparound, for Medicaid-eligible, severely emotionally challenged youth to stay in their community and out of institutions. For a few short years, emotionally challenged youth and kids on probation benefited from the project, but it was undone by politics.

I am concerned we are going back to increased levels of institutionalization. Why aren't more of us speaking up for the people who need help the most? It is an injustice that our legislators need to hear.

Barbara Kuester