State Rep. candidate has spent more than two decades fighting the system
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
NEW GARDEN — Susan Rzucidlo says she knows she can rub some people the wrong way, especially if they get between her and something she’s fighting for, whether it be for her own disabled child, or the children of others.
But even she was taken aback when she discovered that Gov. Tom Corbett had banned her and her colleagues from the state capitol in February, during a protest for the rights of the disabled by a group called American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT).
The irony that a stream of professional lobbyists were allowed through the barricades, while she and other ordinary citizens with a case to argue with elected officials were denied access was not lost on Rzucidlo, she said.
She says she doesn’t really ever allow someone saying “no” to her to stop or even slow her down much, if she’s convinced what she’s fighting for is worth the battle.
So she said she understands why running again for State Representative against eight-term incumbent Chris Ross (R-East Marlborough) might seem like a bit of a fools errand. Except, of course, she doesn’t see it that way. If anything, she notes, the conduct of the Corbett Administration on a range of issues from The Marcellus Shale to a move toward institutionalizing the disabled, to cuts in education funding means Pennsylvania, now more than ever, needs a straight-shooter who won’t take no for an answer when fighting for average people.
“Basically, we’ve created an unelected corporate government,” she said. “It’s a corporate welfare state, we’re subsidizing oil companies and private education companies.”
While she has strong opinions about everything from the lack of tax on The Marcellus Shale to the public pension mess, because of her personal history as the mother of disabled child, she’s quick to bring up what she sees as inefficient and unwanted to changes to state programs for the disabled and the sudden desire to warehouse these individuals — it costs more money and is less effective, she says, than community and home-based care.
“This administration has placed at least 12 people in state-run institutions — the cost is about $650 per day,” she said. “In all eight years of (Gov.) Ed Rendell’s administration no more than five people were ever placed. (Corbett’s Public Welfare) Secretary (Gary Alexander) understood that institutional care was far more expensive than community or home-based care. The question isn’t ‘should the state pay for community based care’ ; the state is required by federal mandate to provide institutional care. The question is how will we spend our limited resources. On the far more expensive institutional model or in the community for a more natural and far less expensive model?”
She offered a number of similar thoughts last month during her testimony before state House Human Services Committee and later this month will serves as the Pennsylvania representative to the third-annual Mom Congress on Education and Learning conference in Washington, D.C.
Rzucidlo knows the system inside and out, fighting for her son Ben, who was diagnosed as severely disabled at a very young age. Doctors told her Ben would never be able to feed himself, never speak, never even know that Rzucidlo was his mother. They recommended that she institutionalize him for the sake of her other children.
“I got up and stormed out of that appointment,” she said, smiling, acknowledging she has a bit of a temper. “Today, I am proud to tell you that: not only can Ben feed himself, he can prepare a meal; not only can Ben tie his shoes, he can dress himself and he works in our local hospital as a volunteer. Ben did not speak until he was seven years old, but he does speak now and he can read and he comprehends what he reads.”
There’s a bit of a pause as she lists all of the mileposts her son, now in his early 20s, has managed that she was told would be impossible.
Then another smile:
“Most importantly, Ben damn well does know that I am his mother,” she said, defiant pride evident on her face.
She said that had she followed the doctor’s advice, it would have cost the state a staggering $43.2 million to date for Ben’s care and that he would decidedly be worse off, cut off from the love and support of his family.
Rzucidlo says she’s confused by The Corbett Administration’s choices in embracing wasteful policies and at the same time slashing funding to those who need it most. She says they seem to have gone off the reservation in so many areas, dragging along legislators like Ross.
One area she cites specifically: environment.
Ross has typically been a champion of environmental issues, she said, noting his authoring of various recycling measures and typical high grades by groups like Penn Environment.
But, that seemed to come in conflict with the Corbett Administration’s plans, so she argues that Ross ignored his own conscience and has done the governor’s bidding. The result: Penn Environment earlier this year gave Ross a 23% rating — saying he voted against environmental protection 77% of the time in issues relating to Marcellus Shale.
“Environment was the one thing I thought we always could depend upon from Chris,” Rzucidlo said. “But 23%? I guess following the governor’s lead is more important to him than what the folks back home think.”
Both Ross and Rzucidlo are running unopposed in next week’s primary election before facing each other in the November general election.