Proposed budget cuts will affect services to intellectually disabled

Disability advocates
“Even if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

I never thought the lyrics of a Rush song would describe the current budget scenario in Connecticut. Yet here we are.
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As the CEO of a nonprofit and an advocate for the disabilities community, I want to share some details on how the Governor’s Resource Allocation Plan and the lack of a state budget is affecting the people we serve who have intellectual and other disabilities.

Each day without a budget creates increasing hardship for people with disabilities, their families and the dedicated staff who support them in their daily lives.

Day and employment programs funded by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), are currently facing a 10 percent cut.  For my organization serving north central and southeastern Connecticut, Journey Found,  that means a loss of  $400 per day, or $2,000 a week, even though we have no opportunity to reduce service levels as all of our day services are provided by a ratio of 1 to 1 for people who have not been able to succeed in traditional employment models.

A reduction in cost on the day programs means an unfunded increase in expenses for residential services, as we would need to supervise them at home.

The funded day programs have six state-required furlough days planned this fiscal year should the state remain without a budget. The first of these furlough days is Wednesday, July 26. If there is no budget by then, all DDS-funded day programs will be unable to bill for services that day. That means day programs will close for the entire day.

For Journey Found, that means a loss of revenue from our day programs (approximately $4,000), and a total loss for the day of about $11,000, as we will need to provide residential staffing during the entire day for all 74 of our DDS-funded people living in our homes.

We will not be funded for this residential staff coverage. The furlough days also affect the employment of the people we serve.

The 74 low-income, intellectually disabled people supported by Journey Found will not be able to work that day and therefore will lose a day’s wages. Just like you and me, they are responsible for paying bills and purchasing their own items. Taking away from the little they earn seems short-sighted and certainly counterproductive.  The day and employment cuts get progressively deeper and more painful  as time goes on.

Should the state still have no budget by the fall, DDS will also cut residential funding to those people already in residential care. This represents an annual cut of more than $762,000 to Journey Found.

We are not alone. Well over 100 nonprofit, private providers serving people with intellectual disabilities are in the same position.

Imagine running your household or business without making decisions on the budget you need to follow. Not only is it anxiety-provoking, it is poor personal and business practice.  Operating without knowing if these cuts will come to pass or not, we have had to limit many activities for the people we serve. Until there is a budget, our organization has had to place a moratorium on all but the most essential expenditures.

We pride ourselves on helping the people we serve people lead happy lives. Journey Found is dedicated not only to the health and safety part of the work we do, but also to social justice. The draconian level of these cuts will severely damage our ability to provide the basic services of our mission. Worse, they will keep the intellectually disabled at home with little or no opportunity to be out in the community, participating in activities of their choosing.

The hours of staffing that will be lost, the transportation funding that will disappear, the recreation dollars that will not be available remove choice and opportunity from the people we serve. These cuts will set our profession back decades in terms of equality, civil rights and equal access for people with intellectual disabilities.

On behalf of the people of Journey Found and all of Connecticut’s people with disabilities, I implore the legislature to work to get a budget passed that protects life-sustaining services. While everyone must work toward a solution, inhumane cuts cannot be silently endured.

Tracey Walker is the CEO of Journey Found, a Manchester group offering support services to individuals with intellectual disabilities.