Born with cerebral palsy, Valerie Harper is paralyzed on her right side. Swollen limbs and severe arthritis, she says, cause her constant pain.
"I can't stand very long. I can't walk that far," Harper, 51, said Thursday.
Yet, she lives on her own, with the help of an aide who comes in two to three hours a day, five to six days a week, to assist with day-to-day tasks such as fixing meals, dressing and bathing.
"She's really like a part of me," Harper said.
But proposed budget cuts could leave Harper and thousands of others who qualify for a state-funded program called In-Home Personal Care Services without that extra help they need to live independently.
Gov. Bev Perdue's $19 billion spending plan, which includes cutting about $386 million from the Department of Health and Human Services' budget, recommends eliminating the program and creating a new one for adults with the most severe needs.
Patient advocates say the move would force thousands of people from their homes and into state facilities, where the cost of care is more expensive.
Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, says a federal lawsuit is inevitable because the cuts violate the rights of disabled residents.
She says she believes the governor's decision is based on budgetary concerns, not patient needs.
"There will be people with higher needs successfully living in the community and people with lesser needs forced into a more costly, restrictive setting," Smith said.
Harper says the cost to her and countless others is their quality of life.
"I don't ever want to think about going to that, because I know it would take away my independence and my pride," she said. "When you don't have that, you ain't got nothing."
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