Christine Stuart photo
Sen. Beth Bye with Reps. John Hampton and Jay Case (Christine Stuart photo)

Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford helped found the caucus of more than 52 lawmakers focused on issues that impact intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals and their families.

This was their first year working on a bipartisan basis on issues impacting that community and Bye was instrumental in making sure those families’ needs were reflected in the state budget.

When she helped found the caucus she was co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, but when former Sen. Toni Harp left as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee to become mayor of New Haven in January, Bye lobbied her leadership for the position and got it.

Now, as co-chairwoman of Appropriations, which is in charge of the spending side of the budget, Bye is in a position to help move forward the agenda of these families.

As a result of Bye’s involvement, the 2015 Appropriations Committee budget included an additional $4.4 million to help open 100 more residential slots for the more than 3,500 people on a waiting list. An estimated 1,500 of those individuals on the waiting list have been classified as an “emergency” or “priority 1” placements and have been waiting for help from the Department of Developmental Services for years, according to advocates and family members.

The $4.4 million is pennies compared to the expansion of services ultimately sought by families, but any amount would be a show of good faith in the wake of a $30 million cut last year to DDS funding.

Budget analysts made Bye’s job a little harder Wednesday when they estimated that there was a nearly $300 million hole in the 2015 budget. Bye is one of a handful of lawmakers behind closed-doors deciding what gets cut.

Will this funding disappear?

“We’re absolutely trying to maintain this funding,” Bye said Wednesday. “We’re looking at everything. Everything in the budget is under consideration and we’re working really hard to hold onto these additions.”

The $4.4 million for residential placements is the one area of the budget that received the most “new dollars” and Bye said she’s doing everything she can to try and hang onto it.

“I wish I could say it’s off the table, but nothing is off the table,” Bye said. “We have to have a balanced budget, but we have to take care of these families.”

The parents who have adult children with these disabilities worry about what will happen to their children when they die. Many of their children have been on a waiting list for a residential placement for eight to nine years, Leslie Simoes, executive director of ARC Connecticut, has said. Many are not receiving any services from the state.

On Wednesday, parents from the “Our Families Can’t Wait!” coalition visited the state Capitol to help educate lawmakers about the issue. They also praised Bye and vowed to support her efforts to keep the funding in the budget even if it’s not the one currently under discussion.

Lauralyn Lewis, the mother of a 22-year-old with Down syndrome, said Bye’s “daunting task will be carried forward vigorously into the long session next January.”

She said there are more than 20,000 people with intellectual disabilities in Connecticut and they will continue to fight for services against all odds.

“For years, the plight of persons with intellectual disabilities and their right to a safe and happy home of their own has been neglected for a number of unacceptable reasons,” Lewis said. “But now because of Sen. Bye . . . a new hope rises.”

The coalition also supports legislation that would require the Department of Developmental Services to develop a plan by July 1, 2015, to expand community-based residential services, respite care, emergency care, day program services, vocational services, and in-home support services. By July 1, 2016, DDS would have to provide all eligible Connecticut residents, including those on the waiting list, with services for which they are eligible. The price tag to implement the legislation is about $49 million in the first fiscal year and more than $100 million in the following.

The bill is on the House calendar, but Wednesday’s budget projections most likely reduced the chance that it would pass this year.