(Updated 5:03 p.m.) Social services and health care programs that the poor, disabled, and elderly rely upon took a big hit in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to eliminate the $1.6 billion gap created by the lack of a labor agreement.
In addition to ordering more than 6,500 layoffs and position eliminations, Malloy reduced funding to the state’s safety net.
The budget reduces support for funding AIDS services by $1.6 million over the next two years, and it seeks to close four group homes for the developmentally disabled that’s in addition to the five already slated for closure as part of the budget. It also closes 80 of the 152 detox and rehabilitation beds at Connecticut Valley Hospital and Blue Hills Rehabilitation Center in Hartford.
“There will be more substance abuse treatment occurring in general hospitals than is desirable, I fully acknowledge that,” Ben Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said. “We made reductions in DMHAS [Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services] that we felt were the least harmful and the reductions we were able to make due to the complex legal constraints the agency is under.”
He said the cuts are not “attractive.”
He said the decision to close four more group homes was difficult, but the cost of a privately run group home is much less than one run by the state.
“I would expect to see increased use of nonprofit providers,” Barnes said.
He said the nine respite facilities that served about 1,800 families last year is one of the first things he would restore if he could, but it’s one of the few programs provided by the Department of Developmental Services that’s not mandated by state or federal law.
“The closure of the respite centers I find very troubling,” Barnes said.
Respite service is temporary care of a person with a disability for the purpose of offering relief to the family or caregiver. The service gives families time to “reenergize, deal with emergency situations, or engage in personal, social, or routine activities and tasks that otherwise may be neglected, postponed, or curtailed due to the demands of caring for a person who has intellectual disabilities,” according to the DDS website.
Department of Development Services Commissioner Terrence Macy said cutting $84 million from his budget over the next two years was painful.
“The scope of these reductions is unprecedented,” Macy said in a statement Friday. “This process was extremely painful. Everyone associated with this procedure struggled mightily as the decision was made regarding which programs and people to include in the final list. No one wanted to create a plan that required the loss of jobs and the elimination of essential services. Unfortunately, the extent of our cuts touches every facet of DDS services.”
The biggest change comes in the Medicaid arena.
The budget establishes an asset test for low-income adults receiving Medicaid assistance. The reason given as part of the budget document is that the caseload has increased 57 percent over the past 12 months due in part to the elimination of an asset test. A family asset limit of $25,000 will be imposed immediately, but due to the federal waiver process the $30 million in savings won’t be realized until 2013.
“We believe when we opened that program up to 18 and 19 year olds, who were full time students, were entering the program because we did not count their family income,” Barnes said. “We believe these are very reasonable limitations on the program that will not interfere with people‘s ability to get medical care.”
Sheldon Toubman, of New Haven Legal Aid, who follows Medicaid issues closely said he is concerned about the proposed cuts in eligibility by counting other family members’ income.
“DSS [Department of Social Services] also has signaled an intention to cut health benefits under this program,” Toubman said Friday. “Since the income guidelines for LIA are the same or lower than the guidelines for all other Medicaid categories, restricting access to health care for this group of individuals is of particular concern.”
The budget also makes some smaller changes such as restructuring the Medicaid fee schedules for durable medical equipment and behavioral health services to get $7.7 million per year in savings and eliminates the Medicaid rate increase for LifeStar, which saw all of its state funding disappear this year. It also reduces the funding of all non-entitlement health programs, such as Alzheimer’s respite care, and other services to the elderly and the poor by 10 percent.
“Some people, in some cases, might not receive the same level of service they’re been receiving,“ Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said Thursday. “You can not reduce this amount of money from the state budget and this amount of money from the state payroll without people feeling an effect.”
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said no one in his caucus likes any of the cuts proposed, but in the absence of a labor deal with state employees there isn’t much of a choice.
“We already made the painless cuts a long time ago,” Williams said Friday.
He said if the unions find a way to vote on an agreement then these budget cuts will disappear. In the meantime, Williams said he will meet with lawmakers to discuss items they wish to talk about at a public hearing. He said lawmakers can propose alternative cuts, but they must be dollar-for-dollar cuts.
Union leadership meets Monday to discuss potential changes to the bylaws. It’s unclear at the moment exactly what those changes may be, but they are expected to be changed in order to achieve ratification of a similar clarified concession package. Four of the 15 unions rejected the previous agreement. In order to pass under the current bylaws 14 of the 15 unions would have had to approve it.
Republicans lawmakers were unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.
Malloy was in Utah at the National Governors Association meeting.