Proposed cuts to developmentally disabled would be “devastating”

February 27, 2013 Denise Romano
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Those living with developmental disabilities will be “devastated” by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget cuts, say activists.

Advocates for the developmentally disabled have been sending letters and holding protests to stop the cuts which some say will reverse years of progress.

Paul Cassone, executive director of the Guild for Exceptional Children and chair of the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Council, explained that there are $120 million in cuts directed specifically to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWWD) funded programs.

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“The funding draws down a match of federal and state money. The federal government’s removal of $120 million means that there will be $240 million less for agencies like the Guild,” Cassone said, adding that that number is a six percent cut to overall funding.

This extra loss is coming on the heels of $1 million in cuts over the past three years.

“We already made these shifts, but we are already experiencing a loss,” Cassone said. “This would be devastating. Even if we were to tweak across the board five percent pay cuts for administration and 10 percent for everyone else, that gets us halfway there.”

In addition to these cuts, federal funding that comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would slash $1.1 billion from total Medicaid funding sent to the state, which includes funding for OPWDD as well as other state agencies, amounting to “the largest funding cuts ever” according to the Coalition of Families for Direct Support Staff in Services for People with Developmental Disabilities, which has sent out an alert to supporters, contending, “Our services would be decimated.”

Thomas Ryan, who is a GEC resident, said that the cuts are “absolutely wrong” and will “make my life very difficult,” since some of his counselors may lose their job.

“I don’t want anything to happen to my staff members, or my counselors or managers,” he explained. “I don’t want to lose my recreation. Usually on Saturdays, I go bowling. It’s going to be very difficult.”

Cassone said that he wants to make sure that the cuts will not affect people’s safety, so there will be no cuts to overnight staff, but the bowling program that Ryan referred to, greenhouse and ceramics studio may be a thing of the past.

“These relate to quality of life,” he noted. “Rather than using local merchants to buy food, we use an institutional food provider. Because the amount of money is so staggering, there is not one thing we can to do accommodate. It must be a series of painful things that we can do to reach that number.”

Cassone said that consolidating staffing and “doubling up offices” may save money.

“It’s getting a little scary, though. We have a lot of older people who live in the residences that we operate…that require very intensive care,” he said. “They have built up friends and a level of comfort. Looking at people like that, if we were to discharge them and send them to a nursing home…we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

He said that he hopes that the cuts will be rescinded and has been in touch with all of the local elected officials.

“We are faced with choosing among the ones that are the least painful,” Cassone said. “The depth of these cuts and how devastating it would be is really very, very difficult.”

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