Grassroots Day 2023

Dr. CJ Cook, DBABlog

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

The Association of Regional Center Agencies (ARCA) is an organization that represents the 21 Regional Centers across California. Their mission is to promote, support, and advance Regional Centers in providing community-based services to the over 400,000 people with an intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) from birth to end of life served by the regional center system of care. As part of its mission, ARCA organizes an annual Grassroots Day where regional center representatives can meet with state senators and assembly members to discuss obstacles and issues pertaining to regional center services.

This year’s team met with several state senators and assembly members and was composed of Managers Dr. CJ Cook, Program Manager Enhanced Case Services Lilliana Garnica, IRC Client Advocate Stephen Donahue, and the IRC Vendor Committee (VAC) Chair and Director of Government Relations at 24 Hour Home Care, April Stewart.

This year’s team added four new members: Amalia Barcelo-Huizar, Parent Ambassador Spanish Language – Riverside County, and Martin Morales, Language Access and Cultural Competency (LACC) Specialist. Also, Estefania “Fania” Pena, IRC’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Cultural Specialist joined the team and brought forth concerns the D/HH Community with the current system of care. Finally, Maria “Mari” Rodriguez, IRC Cultural Specialist, came on board to ensure the Service Access and Equity concerns within our community were brought to our elected leaders.

The Grassroots Day Lead Staff and IRC’s Manager of Community Engagement Dr. CJ Cook said, “Grassroots Day is our opportunity to meet with our elected leaders and raise concerns and advocate for positive change in the Regional Center System of Care.”

Martin Morales pointed out that “Advocacy means assuming the responsibility that improvement or change begins with every one of us. When invited to take a seat at the table, we must participate in the dialogue by voicing our concerns on better meeting our Client’s needs. Changes happen at the policy level. Thus, every opportunity to advocate for policy changes like Grassroots day, we must embrace it with determination because our Clients’ quality of life depends on the decisions our representatives make.”

When asked about the importance of IRC’s Client Advocate, Stephen Donahue, attending Grassroots day Maria Rodriquez said “It is essential because it allows Stephen to have access to policymakers who, through the policy process, can or will impact them on a systemic level. Stephen is connected to the Clients we serve and meets with the Client Advisory Committee (CAC) to gather their issues and concerns to assist him in each meeting we attend”.

Special thanks to those who accepted our invitation to discuss the key advocacy points for the Regional Center System of Care:

Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez

Assemblymember Chris Holden

Senator Steve Padilla

Assemblymember James Ramos

Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh

Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson

Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes


Advocacy – Key Points

  • Stabilizing Regional Center Service Coordination – ARCA and SEIU-California are jointly requesting $64.6M General Fund to better match regional center funding with actual staffing costs. Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula is sponsoring this Budget request.

Historically, the state funded regional centers through the “Core Staffing Formula,” an equation that no longer reflects actual costs. This is why each service coordinator’s caseload has been growing over time. The January Budget proposes $102.1M Total Funds to address this for children ages 0-5. ARCA and SEIU, with support of the Lanterman Coalition, agree it is critical to meet the actual costs of hiring service coordinators, and propose a further $64.6M GF investment to bridge the full funding gap.

This ongoing funding will be rolled-out over three years and be updated regularly to avoid the historic trap of stagnant funding that created the original problem. By July 1, 2025, this will fund appropriate caseloads for every person served by the regional centers. This step-wise approach will ensure centers have the time to identify and hire needed staff, and to implement reduced caseloads to prioritize local community needs. This will let regional centers meet targets mandated in state law, targets that are also the basis for significant federal funds.


  • Legislation for Support and/or Co-Authoring

AB 649 (Wilson) – ARCA is proud to sponsor AB 649 (Wilson), to repeal an administrative appeal mandate. In the Great Recession, the state implemented a law blocking regional centers from buying services unless, in many cases, the individual or family goes through a formal appeal at the other funding agency (such as Medi-Cal) after being denied funding. This administrative appeal mandate creates an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle. Removing this will make it easier for families, particularly in diverse and low-income communities, to access needed services.

  • Provider rate reform – The Lanterman Coalition is a group of many of the leading statewide developmental services organizations in California, including ARCA. ARCA joins them in thanking the Legislature and Administration for the speedy implementation of this long-sought goal. However, it is critical that rates – and the Core Staffing Formula – be periodically updated to make sure they continue to match costs. This will ensure the stability of the Direct Support Professional and service coordinator workforces, and support staff recruitment necessary to maintain and expand in-person service delivery options.
  • Repeal of fees on families – The Annual Family Program Fee and Family Cost Participation Program are two fees charged to families receiving regional center services. These fees – perhaps more accurately termed “disability taxes,” – impact Early Start families most. Getting young children services quickly is very important. The fees act as a barrier to needed services and can create problems between service coordinators and families they are supporting.
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Dr. CJ Cook, DBA

As Program Administrator, CJ is responsible for the proactive oversight of various units within IRC, including Community Management, Service Access and Equity, and Training and Development. CJ's oversight extends to Language Access and Cultural Competency (LACC), Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), equity in the Purchase of Service (POS), and the National Core Indicator (NCI) project. Furthermore, CJ is tasked with managing the IRC's Performance Contract with DDS and overseeing Emergency Services.

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