Texas considers combining program for blind with other rehab services

06/26/2014 5:47 PM

06/26/2014 5:48 PM

The Texas Sunset Commission, a 12-member legislative body, is charged with “identifying and eliminating waste, duplication and inefficiency for more than 130 state agencies,” its website says.

When it does its job well, the results are millions of taxpayer dollars saved and more efficient and effective state services rendered for those who depend on them.

And yet, the process that results in the elimination or merging of state agencies is one that causes angst among public employees attached to the those departments, politicians who are lobbied to save them and some loyal constituents who are served by them.

Among the 20 agencies under review by the commission this year is the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) which has two divisions, one that officers services to the blind and one for all other rehabilitative programs for the disabled, including the deaf and hearing impaired.

The commission staff has recommended eliminating the Division for Blind Services and integrating it with the others, cutting out duplication of administrative staffs and field offices.

At a public hearing Wednesday, commission members seemed supportive of the staff recommendation, while advocates for the blind voiced concern about such a consolidation, The Texas Tribune reported.

It is natural for supporters of programs for the blind to be worried, as many of them have fought for years to improve services such as vocational training and teaching skills that help lead to independent living.

Advocates say that can be more effectively done if such services are separate from rehabilitative programs for other disabilities, and they argue that other states that tried the integrated process failed to make it work.

On the other hand, the Tribune reported, the commission staff said because of an “artificial wall” between the two divisions, “consumers with multiple disabilities are often unable to obtain services from both divisions at the same time or in the same location.”

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who is chairwoman of the commission, rightly says those walls should be torn down.

The public will have an opportunity to comment further before the commission votes and a recommendation is sent to the Legislature for approval.

This proposal sounds like a workable plan, but commissioners must insist that that the level and quality of service will not diminish for any disabled group.

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