Elizabeth Regan
Bob Gorman, an independent living advocate at Independence Northwest, lost his vision due to complications from diabetes (Elizabeth Regan)

The leading Democratic state representative on the legislature’s Human Services Committee on Tuesday reiterated a bipartisan commitment by lawmakers to restore some cuts Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made to social service programs to cover a state budget shortfall.

State Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, told a group of social service providers and clients gathered in Hartford Tuesday that their advocacy is not falling on deaf ears.

“I really do want to take this opportunity to thank my leadership, the governor and my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that are coming together to try and figure this out,” she said, referring to ongoing budget negotiations between Malloy’s administration and legislative leaders from both parties.

Malloy cut $103 million from the state budget last month and announced the need for $120 million more last week. The first round of cuts targeted hospital funding to the tune of $63.4 million in Medicaid payments, and, according to social service advocates, took away $7.57 million from the Department of Developmental Services and $8.43 million from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

“…the governor has the authority to do the rescissions, and he did,” Abercrombie said. “But now everybody’s saying they weren’t the appropriate rescissions. So you’re being heard. You’re being heard loudly.”

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Monday that there was bipartisan concern about cuts to hospitals and social service programs.

“Our intent from the beginning was to find a way to adjust some of those,” Looney said.

Looney acknowledged that means “you have to be willing to find other cuts.”

One idea being floated is a 2.5 percent across-the-board reduction to the state budget. Malloy said Monday that he was aware of the proposal touted by House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, but didn’t think “anyone has priced that out as to what the ramifications are.”

For many of the social service advocates and clients who were at the Legislative Office Building one day after the start of the budget discussions, there are no cuts to social services that would be acceptable. Instead, they say the state should look to raise taxes.

“I believe that programs that are social services should not be touched, and in order to balance the budget we need to increase revenue,” said Nancy Boone, executive director of the Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs.

Dawn DeMatteo, a single mother from East Haven with a 23-year-old developmentally and intellectually disabled son, said chronic “under-funding” of the Department of Developmental Services is hurting her family. While her son needs constant care and supervision, he is not currently eligible for placement in a group home. He has been on the residential housing waiting list for several years, and, if the current funding situation does not improve, will only get a spot when she dies and can no longer care for him.

She described her son, Anthony, as a child who cannot function without full assistance: “A child (who) needs to have diapers changed during the night, fed and shaved in the morning. A child (who) sits on the bathroom floor waiting for me to get out of the shower.”

Malloy’s rescissions cut $1.8 million from the community residential services line item of the Department of Developmental Services budget. That’s after advocates for the disabled, including champions in the legislature’s I/DD Caucus such as state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, had worked all session long to secure an additional $4.4 million in the 2016-17 budget to help address the housing backlog. There are more than 2,100 people on the waiting list.

According to the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, there were 7,167 people receiving community residential services in a variety of settings as of June 30.

Last year, the state appropriated $4 million to help open more spaces, but a DDS report indicated the money was only enough for 100 half-year placements out of the 156 individuals with the most immediate need for service. The agency gave priority to those who live at home with a caregiver who is at least 70 years old.

Jackie Allen-Doucot, co-founder of an organization dedicated to helping impoverished families in Hartford’s north end, was among several people with a message for Malloy about targeting social services through his rescissions.

“I would like to remind him while he thinks that might balance his budget, in fact it will leave the state of Connecticut morally bankrupt,” Allen-Doucot said. “And we’re begging him not to harm people who are already barely hanging on.”

According to Kathleeen Flaherty, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, helping the state’s most vulnerable populations saves money in the long run.

“What we want to make clear to people is the money that is invested in these services –  whether it’s for mental health, whether it’s for developmental disabilities, whether it’s for people living with HIV/AIDS – saves money in the long run. If you cut the services that are available to people, they will still need some kind of help, and they will need more expensive help and they will end up in other parts of the system that will cost the state more money,” Flaherty said.

Ingred Sanchez, a co-leader with the New Haven-based advocacy group Mothers for Justice, said cutting back on services for the poor can result in increased health care costs for the state, poorly performing schools and increased domestic violence.

Sanchez said she pays 75 percent of her income on rent alone after moving out of a bad neighborhood.

A report released this week by the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women said raising the minimum wage combined with reducing family costs through programs such as child care assistance, food benefits, and the Earned Income Tax Credit are necessary to help people attain self-sufficiency over time.

The report found that two parents with a preschool-aged child and a school-aged child would need to make $15.92 each in order to get by without public or private assistance. A single parent with a preschool-aged child and a school-aged child would need to make $29.92 per hour.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.