A 38-year-old woman with a spinal cord injury that uses a power wheelchair is able to get health insurance, the opportunity for employment and mobility with a new and improved chair and accessible apartment that lets her get out into the community.
A widower living with a mental health disability, who had fallen behind financially after losing his wife is able to get help through the CT Housing Finance Authority and stay in his home.
With the support of an advocate for the Money Follows the Person program, a young man living in a nursing facility is able to find a wheelchair accessible apartment that allows him to live in his own home in the community.
These are just three of the thousands of individuals across Connecticut who turn to the state’s Independent Living Centers each year for services that provide living skills and support their access to housing, employment, health insurance and medical care.
The state budget line item for the state’s five centers of $529,000 is a surprisingly modest amount in a $28 billion annual spending plan. But the centers, located across the state in Hartford, Naugatuck, Norwich, Stratford and West Haven, have been targets for budget cuts.
In 2016, the governor recommended cutting all funds, which the legislature restored to $372,000. But in July, the Governor made further rescissions, leaving only about $200,000.
As a result, the centers have reduced service areas from all 169 municipalities to only 25 cities and towns. Staff, who in most cases are peers who also live with disabilities, were laid off. Waiting lists were established for the first time for many services, and some programs, such as some that help individuals find housing, have been suspended.
Just last month, in his budget submission to the General Assembly, Governor Malloy, once again, proposed cutting all state funding. If approved, the cuts will reduce services even further, and likely close center doors.
The state’s finances are dire, and every area of spending must be scrutinized for cuts. But the modest funding needed to fully fund the centers, and cost-saving and life-sustaining work that the centers provide make that recommendation devastating for the individuals impacted and truly short-sighted for state finances.
Without the support from the centers, thousands of individuals who get the support to live in their homes may need to move to far more costly nursing facilities. And the program to shift individuals out of nursing facilities, which saved an estimated $10 million in FY2015, would likely end.
Without employment and independent living supports, many individuals would no longer be able to work, no longer pay taxes and contribute to the local economies, and most likely need to rely on state support to make ends meet.
The governor and the General Assembly must consider both the short and long term in putting together and approving a budget. It is the role of government to support individuals and provide the tools they need to live life to their full potential. The services provided by the state’s independent living centers is indeed a core service of government.
We urge the General Assembly to renew its support for independent living centers, because providing services that help individuals with disabilities live their lives and be contributing members of our society is good for those individuals and good for our community.
Candace Low is the Executive Director of Independence Unlimited in Hartford.