The human services community and its clients packed the state Capitol’s Old Judiciary room Tuesday to remind Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and lawmakers that, unlike large corporations, they don’t have the option of moving out of the state.
Officials who run nonprofit organizations funded by the state said they were devastated by Malloy’s announcement Friday regarding the elimination of some of the new taxes that large corporations found objectionable. Eliminating or reducing those taxes triggers the need to cut $223.5 million more in spending.
Patrick Johnson, interim executive director of the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, called Malloy’s announcement Friday “shocking and devastating.” He encouraged Malloy to sign the budget approved by the General Assembly without making any changes.
Heather Gates, president and CEO of behavioral health provider Community Health Resources, said the budget approved by the General Assembly was not a “perfect budget” because it included cuts to human services “but it was a good compromise between raising revenue and preserving essential services.”
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that for some people it may be easy to forget the noise created by the families of disabled children or mental health advocates, but it’s the reason many of those line items were restored in negotiations with the governor’s office.
“We negotiated in good faith,” Bye said.
She said more spending cuts will definitely impact delivery of human services and the state’s higher education system, if legislative leaders allow the governor to have his way.
“If it was as simple as cutting 1.5 percent across the board we would have had a budget deal months ago,” Bye said.
She said the business community, which is complaining about Connecticut’s taxes, needs to understand that the state already spends $688 million per year on economic development. At the same time, the state allows them to offset their corporate tax liability by $1.1 billion.
Gates said one only needs to look at the budget Malloy presented in February to anticipate where the spending cuts would be made and “that cuts deep into the human service infrastructure.”
She said there’s about 60 percent of the state budget that would be off limits because of contractual obligations, which leaves more cuts for human services.
“We don’t have the option to move out of state,” Gates said. “We’re here to improve the lives of many individuals who come to us for help.”
Services for the developmentally and intellectually disabled are part of the 40 percent of the budget that could face further cuts under Malloy’s proposal to cut $223.5 million over two years to make up for the taxes he wants eliminate or reduce.
Marina Derman, a mother from Westport, held a posterboard photo of her two sons.
“This is the face of your budget,” Derman said. “These are not just budget numbers that we have to add up and put in an Excel spreadsheet. These are people and their families whose lives are affected by decisions made here on the legislative floor, the dark rooms and hallways.”
She told the audience that the 60 percent cut to the state’s Voluntary Services Program originally proposed by Malloy back in February would have threatened her family’s delicate balance.
Michelle Rivelli, a West Haven pediatrician, said the day program cuts would require her to quit her job to provide round-the-clock supervision to her daughter with autism and intellectual disabilities when Jessie ages out of the public school system at the age of 21.
She said the birthday milestone is, for most, a bittersweet celebration of the threshold to adulthood.
“For me and other parents of children with special needs, the 21st birthday is met with frustration and fear for the future,” Rivelli said. “Without funding from DDS for day program services, Jessie will be forced to sit at home and lose all the skills that her special school has so painstakingly worked on for the last 17 years.”
The current residential housing options available to families through the Department of Developmental Services provide primarily for emergency placements — like when the parents of a disabled person die. Critics argue that permanent housing opportunities coordinated and operated by community providers give disabled people and their families the chance to live more fulfilling, independent lives.
Rivelli fears Jessie will lose any hope for that kind of autonomy if the budget is altered.
“Without access to residential funding, she will continue to live with us until we die, and then will receive an emergency placement in a situation with people she does not know and who do not understand her needs,” Rivelli said.
Also affected is the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which faced cuts in the governor’s budget even as the Sandy Hook Commission released its final report issued two years after the mass shooting in Newtown that claimed the lives of 20 students and six educators.
Sandy Hook Commission member Kathy Flaherty, of Newington, said she was hopeful that the governor would heed the findings of the report, which noted a history of chronic underfunding of community-based mental health providers. The report included 52 recommendations to create a “fully functional mental health system.”
Flaherty, who is also associate executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, said she was relieved when the budget approved by legislators included grant funding to community-based providers, restored funding for regional mental health boards, and increased funding for school-based health centers.
“This relief turned to shock and devastation for us as clients, family members, and advocates when we learned of the governor’s proposal to undo the state budget agreement and make more cuts to the human services budget in order to placate corporations complaining about an increased tax burden,” Flaherty said.
Before jetting off to Europe for a trade show this weekend, Malloy told legislative leaders they could find the spending cuts or give him the authority to cut spending. Democratic legislative leaders have not told Malloy how they plan to proceed, but they will have to make a decision before they hold a special session later this month to implement the state budget.
As far as the disability and human services community is concerned, Malloy Spokesman Devon Puglia said the governor has to make “unpopular choices” as a leader for the entire state.
“The bottom line is this: the Governor is leading,” Puglia said. “He’s heard from communities across the state — including those affected by the cuts — but he must be a leader for the entire state and its economic future. While we sympathize with their position and were happy to restore some of their funding, we have to make difficult, often unpopular choices.”
But Derman, with the two disabled sons she holds up as the face of the budget, sees a different bottom line. “Let’s take it as a basic, non-negotiable that we take care of our disabled population,” she said.