Cuts Threaten Elderly and Disabled

State budget cuts are threatening thousands of elderly and disabled Floridians who rely on guardians to survive in the Sunshine State. The governor wants to spend $5 million on the Public Guardian Program, but the entire office could be abolished by budget cutters in the state Legislature.

Janet Graham is terrified the Office Public Guardians is about to be cut from the state budget. The Public Guardians Act acts on behalf of elderly or disabled people who don't have family to make decisions about their care.

“The Public Guardian is able to help them decide where they'd like to live, what setting they'd like to live in, what their daily schedule looks like, who is providing services to them to make sure they're getting qualified, quality, competent care,” says Janet.

Janet got involved in the fight to save the Public Guardian program because her five-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy. She worries who would make decisions for Sophie if she weren't there, and what will happen to the thousands of people in the program if it goes away.

Jeb Bush recommended $5 million in matching grants in his budget to continue the Office of Public Guardians, but right now the House is only recommending $1 million. The Senate is recommending wiping it out completely.

Executive director Michelle Hollister says saving five million bucks by scraping the program could cost taxpayers a lot more down the road.

“Without the Public Guardians to serve these indigent people who have nobody else, these people end up on the streets, they end up needing emergency services,” says Michelle.

The 2,500 people served by public guardians won't be rallying at the capitol or e-mailing their lawmakers because many of them can't even communicate, but Janet hopes lawmakers will think of people like Sophie when they make their budget choices over the next few weeks.

Right now there are only 16 different Public Guardian offices around the state, serving 2,500 clients in 27 counties. The Office of Public Guardians estimates at least 3,000 more people need services but don't have an office in their county.