Time for Connecticut lawmakers to do the right thing for the disabled

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Connecticut’s legislature, on a bi-partisan basis, has so far failed to do its most important job — adopt a budget. In response, the Gov. Dannel Malloy implemented an executive order to keep the state running that minimized its impact on the State’s Department of Developmental Services employees while devastating our most vulnerable citizens.

Leaders can attempt to minimize the amount of damage inflicted, but if you are an individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), this executive order is the shut off notice from the electric company. A few examples:

  • Community providers—who provide 90 percent of the services to people with I/DD in this state–for a fraction of the cost of their far better compensated state employee counterparts–have had their funding slashed. As a direct and predictable consequence, people are losing services as group homes close and vital day programs are decimated. Provider employees will lose jobs and see their compensation cut as the State’s unilaterally imposed cuts (including six unpaid furlough days–something that was not imposed on any State employee) take effect.
  • Hundreds of new high school graduates with I/DD will graduate to nothing. They will sit at home, in all likelihood accompanied by a parent who has had to quit their job to be there with them.  It makes a cruel mockery of the years they spent preparing to take their rightful place in the community.
  • Programs that were designed to help struggling families take care of their children at home, and avoid crises and the emergency room, suffered double digit cuts. Everyone knows that this will result in an increase in far more expensive emergency services. Everyone knows it’s a terrible idea.  No one has stopped it.

Faced with the likelihood that the General Assembly would fail to adopt a budget on time, the governor could have equitably spread the pain and inconvenience. For example, state agencies could have cut hours, or certainly state managers could have received furloughs similar to those imposed on private workers. Out of control overtime could have finally been addressed.  Instead, he inflicted maximum harm on people with I/DD. Where is the humanity in this approach?  Moreover, legislators might want to question whether there is any popular support for these priorities.

Did the governor think, when he proposed his executive order with these very harsh consequences for people with I/DD, that the legislature would have a heart and never let it go into effect? Now we know—that was a fool’s bet.

The House Democrats did finally put out a budget. It contains no funding for employment and day services for new high school graduates for the entire biennium. It continues the draconian cuts to the programs that support increasingly desperate families. It ends our Medicaid Community First Choice program, a goal that ironically is shared by Congressional Republicans.  This program, at a fraction of the cost of other state programs, has for the first time in many years provided an off ramp from the state’s residential waiting list for people with I/DD.

The Senate Democrats have also issued a revised budget that is only slightly better than the House Democrats’—it provides half of the necessary funding for Employment and Day Services for new graduates. In other respects, it mirrors the House Democrats’ harsh, unnecessary choices.

As parents of an adult son with I/DD, we thought our toughest fight would be against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the reduction of Medicaid funding by the Trump administration. We never thought we would be fighting as hard against Democrats in our home state to prevent a similar roll back of vital services.

And make no mistake, this roll back, if enacted, will not be temporary. The rhetoric that “somehow families will make do” is already out there. Our family members have been made pawns in this budget battle, and it is appalling.

Instead of destroying vital services, there are better ways forward within DDS, including cutting some of the $45 million in overtime its employees received last year, and closing excessively expensive state institutions ($96,000,000 expended last year for just 270 residents at Southbury Training School), in favor of more efficient community-based settings.

There is still time for the legislature to adopt a budget that maintains critical services and supports while allocating some of the sacrifice to those who can more easily bear it.  There still is time — there always is — to do the right thing. It’s time to do it.

Tom Fiorentino is President of The Arc Connecticut. Shelagh McClure is parent and advocate for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They live in West Hartford.

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