“Ronda Peterson is the adoptive parent of a special needs child from OKDHS. Under federal and state law, adoptive parents of special needs children qualify for adoption assistance, which includes Medicaid for the children and often includes monthly adoption subsidy payments to help offset the enormous costs of rearing disabled children. Severely disabled children may also qualify for what are known as “difficulty of care” supplements. Federal law provides that adoption subsidy payments may not be altered without the concurrence of the adoptive parent. In January 2017, OKDHS adopted a review process for adoptive children receiving difficulty of care subsidies that imposed onerous requirements on adoptive parents. Those parents who could not meet the requirements had their difficulty of care subsidies terminated without their concurrence. This was a clear violation of federal law. Later in 2017, OKDHS imposed an across-the-board 5% cut in adoption subsidies without the concurrence of adoptive parents. Again, this was a violation of federal law.
Ms. Peterson became the self-appointed advocate to challenge these illegal actions by OKDHS. She enlisted my assistance to help her understand the complexities of the federal law. She pressed me to file a class action lawsuit to challenge these unlawful policies, which I was unable to do without local legal support. She sought help from a national adoption support program. Most to the point, however, she undertook a personal advocacy battle with OKDHS to point out its unlawful actions under federal law. Ms. Peterson was relentless in this effort. She single-handedly undertook legal research so that she could fully understand the laws. She repeatedly wrote to OKDHS officials pointing out the federal laws that were violated. The only thing I can liken it to is when prisoner Andy Dufresne in the movie the Shawshank Redemption started his letter-writing campaign to obtain new books for the prison library. After more than a year of this persistent advocacy, OKDHS finally relented by restoring the 5% cut in subsidies and abandoning its illegal difficulty of care terminations.
But Ronda did not stop there! No, she continued to press OKDHS to retroactively restore all of the illegally withheld subsidy payments. And she succeeded in convincing OKDHS that back payments of subsidies should be made. Ms. Peterson’s advocacy efforts helped literally 10,000 adoptive families across the State of Oklahoma. For those who think that adoption subsidies are some kind of undeserved welfare payments, I can only say that they must be ignorant of the enormous financial and emotional costs of rearing a severely disabled child who otherwise would not have a home.
I believe that Ronda Peterson’s is the case of an ordinary person who has engaged in an extraordinary advocacy effort to help thousands of disabled kids. I would highly commend her to the Institute as a most worthy recipient of the award.”