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Clients maintain independence

Andy Ouriel • Dec 25, 2013 at 2:20 PM

A big grin usually crosses Heather Tkach’s face each time she cruises down the road in her 2001 Pontiac Aztek.

“I can just get out of my house and go instead of waiting, and waiting, and waiting” Tkach said.

Tkach, 25, recently obtained her driver’s license, further cementing her independence as an adult.

But she credits the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities for accelerating her liberation. The agency offers a program called individual budgets, in which board officials provide funding for goods and services clients need.

Each client has his or her own financial budget, fronted by taxpayer dollars and overseen by board employees.

No budget is lower than $12,500 or higher than $20,400.

Officials, through a ranking system based on an individual’s needs, divvy out funds to certain clients for specific services or goods.

Some clients have obtained ramps, wheelchair upgrades and nutritional supplements.

In Tkach’s case, for instance, officials paid someone to tutor her before she aced her driver’s permit test.

She now obtains prepaid gas cards so she can visit her friends or go shopping.

“It’s beneficial because people like Heather are more independent,” said Jessica Smith, a board services and support administrator.

Erie County is one of the only counties in Ohio offering individual budgets for people with disabilities, Smith said.

The investment of time and money is worth it, board superintendent Carrie Beier said.

“It has been proven that when people gain control of decision making and resources, their lives will improve and costs for supports and services will go down” Beier said.

Since 2010, about $3.16 million in local taxpayer funds have helped an average of about 150 people per year become more independent, according to a Register analysis of financial data obtained through a public records request.

Officials pegged 2014 as a banner year for the individual budgets program, with record amounts estimated for clients served, 221, and expenses, $1.03 million.

An individual budget will only cover costs for something insurance or Medicaid won’t cover, Smith said.

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