It seems like a little thing, but for a father of autistic twins having the Putnam Respite Center available to care for them 24 hours a day when he and his wife need to get away for a few days, is critical.
Jim Schmitt, who attended a rally with a few dozen of the Department of Development Service workers Tuesday, said it’s the only time of the year his wife and him get a break.
“Without the respite centers we’d never get to do hardly anything. We’d never be able to get away at all,” Schmitt said.
He said his 14 year old twins are non-verbal and he’s unable to leave them with family members or friends, but he trusts the trained and caring staff at the state-run respite centers.
“Respite was actually a saving grace for us. Actually for the first time in our lives we were able to go away for a day or two on a weekend. Without it we have nothing,” Schmitt said.
All nine state respite centers and all 83 employees who work at the centers were issued layoff notices last week. It was one of the many cuts Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made when he was given increased rescission authority by the legislature to close the $1.6 billion budget gap left when the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition defeated the concession package.
On Monday labor leaders changed the bylaws to make way for another vote on a similar concession package, but time is not on their side.
Paul Fortier, vice president of SEIU District 1199, said layoff notices for Department of Developmental Services part-time workers with less than five years of service, will go into effect next week.
“We believe if there is a tentative agreement reached ASAP, tonight, tomorrow, or soon there after that we would hope the governor’s office and the departments hold off on the layoffs pending the vote of our members,” Fortier said.
Malloy, who made two stops Tuesday with commissioner of economic development director, said it’s something they’re still working on, but in all probability the vast majority of the layoffs will “go away.”
SEBAC leadership was meeting Tuesday afternoon behind closed-doors to talk about what a clarified agreement will look like and find a way to delay and ultimately get rid of the more than 4,000 layoffs that will occur without an agreement.
“We voted ‘Yes’ on the agreement. We should not have received any layoff slips,” Fortier said Tuesday outside the Department of Developmental Services Newington campus.
“These are programmatic cuts, not seniority-based layoffs, which will undermine the core DDS mission and devastate client care unless they are halted,” he said in a statement.
Fortier said SEBAC voted to change the bylaws Monday and are meeting with the Malloy administration today to negotiate a settlement. If those negotiations are successful then Fortier said there will be another vote of the membership by Aug. 15. He said he expects the unions will win ratification this time.
“If there is a resolution we’re going to be giving thousands, and thousands of dollars back and we want all of our jobs back and we want all of the services for the clients we’ve been working with for years back,” Fortier said.
He said the respite care center up in Torrington for example is booked through the middle of January. He said these are critical services provided to the community to make sure individuals with developmental disabilities remain in the community, instead of institutional settings.
“If these cuts do happen, it will set back the progress in Connecticut years and years and will be very difficult to replicate and reinstitute if in fact we lose these services,” Fortier said.
Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for SEIU District 1199, said even if these layoffs don’t go through and these respite programs and group homes are saved this week, “this is a constant struggle for us.”
“People need to understand the kind of work that we do, how important it is to the community, and that it is a valuable resource for the state. Otherwise people would have to put their twins, or their daughter, or whoever into institutional care,” Chernoff said.
She said institutional care is more expensive, less, humane, and not the direction the state wants to go in.
Rebecca Wentworth, who works at the Putnam Respite Center, said the families that use the center don’t have a “big voice” to speak out against these budget cuts.
“Their families are devastated by this and they’re losing a tremendous support network and we’re concerned about them,” Wentworth said. “They don’t know what’s going to happen now.”
Wentworth and her colleagues experienced a similar feeling last week when they received the layoff notices.
In addition to the nine respite centers, four group homes will close and a total of 263 Department of Developmental Service workers were issued layoff notices last week.
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