Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Louisiana advocates plan protest of state budget cuts to disability services

From The Daily Comet:

THIBODAUX, La. — Employees from Lafourche and Terrebonne organizations that aid mentally and physically disabled people will join hundreds of protesters at the state Capitol May 27 seeking to have their programs spared from budget cuts.

Proposed cuts were fought off successfully in the House but could be restored by the Senate Finance Committee this week. Representatives of the Lafourche ARC as well as the Terrebonne Association for Retarded Citizens say a broad budget-cutting plan that could be approved by the committee would severely affect the services they provide.

“The worst and hardest thing for us to cope with is budget cuts because then they cut our rates,” said George Stack, executive director of the Lafourche ARC, who expects to bring 47 people to the protest. “When we cut rates, it almost makes it impossible to continue providing services. We would just go broke.”

A handful of TARC employees will join the rally Wednesday as well.

“We may not have the numbers,” TARC Executive Director Mary Lynn Bisland said, “but we have the same enthusiasm and the same mission as George. There’s some small agencies that are very good and could be closing their doors because of this.”

TARC and the Lafourche ARC are among 800 service providers that will be affected by the proposed cuts. The two organizations provide a range of free services such as in-home support, transportation and vocational training.

The Lafourche ARC, which provides services to about 650 people in seven parishes across southeast Louisiana, relies heavily on state and federal money. It could lose more than $4 million if the budget cuts pass.

Stack said the Lafourche ARC supports a statewide plan from the Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities that would scale back certain services by 30 percent. Stack said that would save $100 million over three years.

“That is enough savings where they wouldn’t have to cut us,” Stack said. “I’m not real sure how well that’s understood in Baton Rogue.”

Stack said that if proposed broad budget cuts go through, ARC will have to discharge about 100 people getting services.

“The children and the elderly would get hurt the most,” Stack said.

The Lafourche ARC has 714 employees, half of them part-time.

Providers weathered a 3.5 percent cut to some disability services in February when Gov. Bobby Jindal announced mid-year cuts to deal with a $341 million shortfall in the 2008-09 state budget.

If the current budget passes, those same services will be cut by another 4 to 9 percent. The remaining disability services will also face cuts between 4 and 7 percent.
“They put it all on the backs of private providers,” Stack said.

Other tax-funded institutions, like state-operated community homes, offer similar services. But data from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals show that these can cost taxpayers up to three times more than nonprofit programs like TARC.
Stack said privatizing these state-operated community homes, which cost the state around $100,000 per person per year could help close the budget gap.