People with disabilities say new Missouri budget disrespects their community and needs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- People with disabilities say Missouri's governor has left them in the cold.

The Show-Me-State's new budget, which took effect on July 1st, includes some unwelcome news for some people in need. Gov. Eric Grietens' first budget cuts Medicaid benefits, including those that fund some in-state human services agencies.

The Whole Person, a non-profit agency in Kansas City, says it's been forced to cut 23 jobs from its full-time workforce. That agency's directors say employees were informed their jobs were eliminated on Friday. Organizers at The Whole Person, which provides basic human services to people with disabilities, point to Gov. Grietens' budget cuts as being the source of their belt-tightening move.

"It's disrespectful. It affects human rights," Pamela Chavez said on Wednesday. "It's pretty fearful and disappointing."

Chavez, 24, says there isn't much she fears.  She uses a wheelchair to help her get around, as she lives with the effects of Osteo Imperfecta, a brittle bone disorder she's had since birth. Chavez says she requires some assistance with basic tasks around her home, and The Whole Person has provided that for a number of years.

"I'd rather go out and plan and do things than just stay home," Chavez proudly said.

Independent living means the world to Chavez, a native of Kansas City's Old Northeast neighborhood. She's working on a college degree in sociology at UMKC. She's also among thousands of Missourians who object to reductions to Medicaid-based programs that help her live on her own. She's upset to learn The Whole Person's directors are forced to reduce their operating budget by at least $5 million, which they claim to be the dividend of the state's budget cuts.

"It's really disrespectful to the disability community. We work so hard to be independent and to do our daily activities," Chavez fumed.

The Whole Person also faces a reduction in manhours its existing care providers can give to each consumer in need. Julie DeJean, the non-profit's CEO, says the choice left no leeway: either eliminate those 23 positions, or close the agency.

"I was shocked that it resulted in the number of layoffs we've actually had," DeJean told FOX 4 News.

DeJean, who has held her post with The Whole Person for three years, says the cuts are like a punch in the gut for her. She fears these reductions will result in more people moving into skilled nursing homes rather than continuing to live on their own.

"I think, in this case, it might have been pennywise and pound foolish because it's going to potentially end up costing more if we'd have left things the way they were," DeJean said.

Next week will mark the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which helped establish services like this one. The Whole Person will host its annual July Jubiliee, running from July 29-31.​

FOX 4 News reached out to Gov. Grietens' staff in Jefferson City. Emails and a call to spokesperson Parker Briden, who speaks on the governor's behalf, were not returned on Wednesday.