CapitolA Republican budget plan that has cleared the Iowa House would eliminate a state program formed after the plight of mentally disabled men who worked at a West Liberty turkey plant was exposed.

In 2009 the federal government sued a Texas company for paying the men as little as $65 a month and housing them in a derelict, abandoned elementary school in the small eastern Iowa town of Atalissa. Democratic Representative Sally Stutsman lives in Riverside, about 30 miles from Atalissa.

“The public was outraged and wondered how something like this could happen in Iowa,” Stustman says. “Was no one advocating for these men? Well, the answer was no.”

House Republicans have voted to eliminate the state Office of Substitute Decision Maker, which has been lining up advocates for mentally disabled adults. Stutsman said the program is their last line of protection.

“Individuals being assisted by the program have nobody else available or suitable to assist them. It is unclear what will happen to individuals currently served by the program if it is eliminated,” Stutsman said. “…Many of us in this room have family or friends that we can turn to, but for some that is not an option. Don’t we as a society have a responsibility to provide and protect the least able to care for themselves?”

The House Republicans’ budget plan saves about a quarter of a million dollars by cutting this program. The GOP plan spends far less, overall, on state social service programs than the budget plan Senate Democrats have drafted. Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, said the avian flu outbreak will have a “big impact” on the state’s economy — and will reduce the amount of state tax revenue available.

“When I think of my people whose livelihoods are hanging in the balance today, I know that being (fiscally) responsible in the state budget is the right course to take,” Heaton said.

Late Wednesday afternoon House Republicans passed their spending plan for state human services programs over objections from Democrats on a variety of fronts. Democrats again criticized the shut-down of the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant and argued legislators should stand up to the governor and try to fight the closures.