By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – Despite California spending millions to eradicate inequalities, a new report out Wednesday found racial and geographical disparities persist at regional centers tasked with caring for adults with disabilities.
Though the state has paid out millions in grants to regional centers – facilities that provide services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities – that submit proposals outlining ways to reduce inequities, the new report compiled by Disability Voices United found that just four out of 21 regional centers decreased the spending gap between white adults and Latino adults.
The report examined disparities based on race and geography among adults who receive services at regional centers – independent nonprofits funded by state and federal taxpayer dollars who provide services to adults with disabilities. There are 21 regional centers in the state, though the report focused on 19 centers.
The report’s findings revealed disparities at all levels of service, which were determined by where an adult lives – at home, in residential settings like group homes or living on their own with supportive services. When comparing adults living in similar situations, “racial and ethnic disparities still plague the system, particularly among Latinos,” the report concluded.
“In a state that claims to be a progressive and multicultural leader, California is failing people with developmental disabilities and must take immediate, deliberate and data-driven action to right these unacceptable wrongs,” the report states.
Among adults living at home, Latino adults received the least amount of services at eight regional centers, while white adults living at home received the most services at eight centers. Additionally, white adults who live in their own apartments with supportive services received the highest amount of service dollars at 14 out of 19 regional centers, while Latino adults in the same living situation received the least amount of services at 11 out of 19 regional centers.
In contrast to other living situations, the study found white adults living in residential settings received the lowest amount of service funding in 10 out of 19 regional centers. Disparities remain in the amount spent on services between racial groups, and the regional center with the largest disparity has a difference of more than $45,000 in services provided to Latinos, who receive the least amount of services, and adults whose race is categorized as “other” who receive the highest amount of services.
Disparities also exist depending on where regional centers are geographically located. The report found that the average spending at regional centers ranges from $60,347 at Golden Gate Regional Center to $26,409 at Inland Regional Center. Higher spending centers tend to have greater variation among racial/ethnic groups, while lower spending centers have less variation, according to the report.
The report concludes that adults with disabilities receive “vastly different” levels of services depending on the region in California they live in and their race/ethnicity.
Advocates say lawmakers and other state officials have been aware of these disparities for decades. Since 2016, the state has spent $11 million to eradicate existing inequalities. The 2022-2023 budget included $22 million for these efforts, adding to the $66 million already spent.
The funds are distributed by the Department of Developmental Services via “Service Access and Equity Grants” that are awarded to regional centers who submit proposals explaining how they will reduce disparities. Despite this funding, the report found that 17 out of 21 regional centers saw the spending gap between white adults and Latinos increase compared to 2015 when the grants did not exist.
Judy Mark, president and co-founder of Disability Voices United, told reporters on Wednesday that it’s unclear why these disparities exist in a systemic way, saying that more research is needed to identify “root causes.”
“One of the big problems is that these $66 million in grants have been handed out without really understanding the root causes of disparities and without even understanding which projects work, which projects don’t work,” Ms. Mark said.
She added that the “culture” of the regional centers could be a root cause of disparities. Ms. Mark described the culture as a “culture of no,” noting that white people and English speakers “have more resources to be able to fight that culture of no and to move it to yes.”
Other advocates said the system could be challenging to navigate, which can result in some adults receiving no services at all. According to Wednesday’s report, there is a higher percentage of Latino and Asian adults who receive no services at 15 out of 19 regional centers, while white adults are the least likely to receive no services.
“The system is just so hard to navigate, it’s so complex,” Fernando Gomez, co-founder of Integrated Community Collaborative, said Wednesday. “To an average person, it really is overwhelming. They’re intimidated. They, in essence, many times give up.”
To address the disparities, advocates came up with a list of recommendations that include increasing oversight over regional centers with higher racial and geographic disparities and implementing a statewide system that increases consistency in services among regional centers.