Gov. Josh Shapiro featured speaker at local Disability and Mental Health Summit
Commitment to supportPa. Governor outlines support for mental health community

Gov. Josh Shapiro featured speaker at local Disability and Mental Health Summit

“No one should have to wait months or sometimes years for these services.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro addresses the 11th Annual Disability and Mental Health Summit. (Photo by David Rullo)
Gov. Josh Shapiro addresses the 11th Annual Disability and Mental Health Summit. (Photo by David Rullo)

Before a crowd of several hundred attendees, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro addressed the 11th Annual Disability and Mental Health Summit.
“For 11 years, this summit has filled a critical need for people, not just in your district but across Western Pennsylvania, connecting families with the services their loved ones need to be able to live a full and productive life,” he said, opening his nearly 30-minute speech.
Organized by state Rep. Dan Miller, the summit took place at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. The two-day event featured a resource fair and various speakers.

Shapiro noted that he was the first governor to speak at the summit, adding that mental health issues aren’t particular to any one party but require partnership from both Democrats and Republicans in state government.

His speech highlighted several families and organizations he’s encountered during his time in office, including BARC Developmental Services, a nonprofit that assists and supports individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism.

The governor said he was able to spend time with some of the staff who told him of “the responsibility I have as a leader of the commonwealth to deliver for them and make sure they’re in a position to provide loving care.”

Shapiro found a sympathetic audience when discussing Sandy and her daughter Kate from Westmoreland County. Kate, he said, qualities for 65 hours of caregiver services a week, but the family was unable to find providers with enough staff to give her the support she needs.

“Sandy,” he said, “as a single mom, gave up her career to care for her daughter and is actually taking money out of her retirement in order to cover the expenses she needs for her daughter.”

Shapiro illustrated the need for better pay for direct support professionals through the story of Cindy and her son, Matthew. The mother, he said, has her own health challenges but had to step in to care for her son full time.

The story is typical for tens of thousands of families with members that have intellectual disabilities, he said.

“Wonderful people who can give back and can do so much for us, but we haven’t given them the support they need,” he said.

Each year since the time he served as a state representative, Shapiro said, there has been an excuse why more money couldn’t be approved to support people like Matthew. That’s why he invited the mother and son to his annual budget address.

“I wanted every single representative and senator of both parties to have to look them in the eye and recognize that now is a moment where we need to do right by them,” he said, interrupted by applause.

Shapiro said he has been moved by families like Cindy and Matthew, expressing his frustration at trying to assist them and others like them.
“I called my wife, the first lady, Lori, and asked, ‘What the hell are we doing here if we’re not supporting them?’”

The governor said he has challenged his staff to understand the challenges faced by families and to come up with real solutions to help them.
The state, he said, faces a deficit of approximately 10,000 direct support professionals because the salary offered by the state amounts to less than $15 an hour — a rate less than that offered at Target or Walmart.

That deficit, he said, results in waitlists and fewer hours of support.

“I’m here to tell you,” Shapiro said, “our system cannot continue like this.”

His administration, he said, has begun the work to address the shortage.

Shapiro said his budget will include a state investment of $217 million for direct support professionals, along with federal dollars, that would mean “nearly half a billion dollars to support those with intellectual disabilities in our community. This would be an unprecedented investment.”

Additionally, he’s proposing another $78 million to “give 1,500 more Pennsylvanians home- and community-based care services, and finally get them off the waiting list.”

“We’re launching a multi-year strategy through the Department of Human Services to effectively end the emergency wait list,” he said. “No one should have to wait months or sometimes years for these services.”

Saying that all should be able to live with dignity and respect, Shapiro stated that his administration is doubling down on its investment in mental health.

According to a recent survey, he said, the top three services people with autism need are social skill training, behavioral support and mental health counseling.

His administration, he said, is providing $100 million to school districts so they can hire mental health counselors and is increasing funding for county mental health support services, as well as keeping the 988 hotline open for those with mental health emergencies.

And, Shapiro said, he recently directed the state insurance commissioner to reclassify autism as a mental health matter.

“We’re going to remain committed to those with intellectual disabilities and those who provide service to them,” he said. “We’re going to continue to focus our efforts on addressing mental health in our schools, in our communities and in our homes.”

The work, he noted, will require bipartisan support and continued pressure from families. He urged them to vote and to continue to text and email legislators.

“We have a lot of work to do, and we are relying on you to help us get his work done,” he said. “We will continue to work with you and alongside you.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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