The deaf community wanted to make sure their voices were heard Wednesday when they rallied outside a state office building in Hartford in support of 35 state interpreters who were laid off this week.
The 35 interpreters and five clerical workers from the Department of Rehabilitation Services were the latest casualties of the state budget.
The Department of Rehabilitation Services informed the entire group of state employees Tuesday that they were being laid off. It means there’s no more public interpretation services available to the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Morag MacDonald is an APRN who relies on interpreter services to do her job and communicate with people who can hear.
“I was furious,” MacDonald said. “I rely on these services every day.”
During Wednesday’s rally, MacDonald said she has had to hire uncertified interpreters from private providers who have failed to provide the same quality as the state interpreters.
In a medical setting it’s important to be able to communicate and that’s why she called the U.S. Department of Justice, who referred her to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It’s also important in an educational setting.
Dylan Alers, 12, said he’s been using state interpreters throughout his life. He said the quality of the interpreters matters to him because he wants to be a lawyer.
The quality of services presented a life-or-death situation for his mother, Liza Alers, who is also deaf. When Liza presented at the emergency room in excruciating pain, the interpreter they called was unable to properly convey that pain to the doctor and was unable to convey what the doctor was saying back to her.
She said it wasn’t until she woke up after surgery that she discovered they removed her appendix.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration tried to downplay the elimination of the services.
They said the services the clients receive won’t change, they will just be funneled through another agency.
James Cusack, one of the state interpreters laid off this week, said there is only one other agency that provides services and it’s in Bridgeport. He said if the state is no longer charging for interpretation services, then it won’t be making any money on those services.
The Malloy administration said it costs the state about $100-per-hour, including fringe benefits, to provide the services, at the same time as it’s only charging $55-an-hour to hire the interpreters.
The administration said that the change will save the state at least $30 per hour.
Private providers charge about $60-an-hour for these same services, so it’s likely the cost of these services will increase for the deaf community, according to the administration.
AFSCME Council 4, the union that represents the interpreters, said the Malloy administration’s was quoting an inaccurate figure for their members’ salary and benefits.
“Our highest paid interpreter makes $37.17 per hour,” Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, said. “Even if you accept a 100-percent benefit cost, which is high, the total hourly cost to the state is less than $75 per hour — less than what many private providers would charge. The real issue is the governor cares more about hedge fund managers and insurance CEOs than he does the deaf and hard of hearing.”
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, who co-chairs the legislature’s Human Services Committee, said the decision to lay off the interpreters is an “ill-advised” budget cut that will end up costing taxpayers in the long run.
Abercrombie said they passed legislation in 2015 to require state agencies to use the Department of Rehabilitation Services interpreters first because “the state employee interpreters cost taxpayers less money.”
She said she understands the state’s dire fiscal challenges, but the elimination of these services won’t benefit anyone.
Tammy Batch, another interpreter who was laid off, said the state has a legal and moral responsibility to provide these services.
She said the decision to cut them is devastating to her and the entire deaf community.