Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Yorkers with disabilities protest governor's budget cuts

From the Legislative Gazette in NY:

Dozens of New Yorkers with developmental disabilities and their advocates gathered outside of Gov. David A. Paterson's office the week of Nov. 16 to protest proposed cuts to the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities funding.

Attending the protest was Assemblyman Greg Ball, R–Patterson, who has publicly opposed the governor's deficit reduction plan, which would cut funding to OMRDD programs by 10 percent.

"We all know things are tighter than ever, and the state should step up and do its part. However, pick-pocketing the disabled to fill a budget gap is not the answer," said Ball. "This measure, if accepted, would endanger the health and safety of our extremely vulnerable population and destroy the quality of care for the neediest among us."

Also attending the protest, conducted in the Capitol on Nov. 16 and 17 were the representatives of organizations that provide support to the developmentally disabled and the parents and family members of developmentally disabled individuals.

"We're looking to the Legislature for leadership, not a quick fix for the budget," said Mary Ann Allen, the mother of a 23-year-old son with autism. Allen is also the executive director of Wildwood Programs, an organization that serves families and individuals affected by developmental disabilities. "Cutting 10 percent has a real effect on people's lives."

Ball said the cuts would devastate facilities providing residential and day services and result in approximately 10,000 staff being laid off and the potential closure of some day facilities. Many of the staff who would be eliminated are direct support staff responsible for the health and safety of the patients in their care, he said.

The assemblyman said a cut in state OMRDD funding would result in the loss of matching federal Medicaid funds as well.

Richard Swierat, executive director of Westchester Arc, said the cuts would greatly impact the center he oversees and many others like it.

"Westchester Arc provides direct support for over 1,600 people in daily programs and services that support them in community life," said Swierat. "These people are highly vulnerable, requiring 24-hour care and oversight … [The proposed cuts] will create situations in which people will not be properly supervised, health and safety will be secondary and New York state will violate its legal constitutional obligations."

Allen said that if staff is reduced as a result of the cuts, it will mean an unsafe environment for her son.

"If I don't have a safe place for him to go during the day, I can't go to work," said Allen.

"It's not easy raising a child with developmental disabilities," she said.

The governor's office had no comment on the protest.

When announcing its deficit reduction plan, Paterson's office said, "The local assistance reduction of $1.3 billion would represent a 10 percent cut to all remaining, undisbursed local assistance spending in the current fiscal year." This would include the cuts to OMRDD-funded programs.