HARTFORD, CT — Every year the Connecticut Independent Living Centers, which help individuals with all types of disabilities move out of nursing homes, find gainful employment, or affordable housing, seem to be on the chopping block. This year is no different.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed eliminating all state funding for the five regional centers as part of his budget proposal. That was before Republican President Donald Trump released his budget blueprint that further cut their funding.
“On a very modest budget, our Independent Living Centers [have] been available to the 347,000 individuals with disabilities living in Connecticut, and we have already been forced by budget reductions to curtail services,” Daria Smith, executive director of the Connecticut State Independent Living Council, said. “If state budget cuts are implemented, in this new era of less support from the federal government, the individuals we serve could have nowhere to turn for support.”
Eileen Healy, executive director of Independence Northwest, said the state’s five centers helped 233 individuals transition out of nursing facilities and saved the state about $11 million. Another 422 received services that prevented the need for costly emergency health, transportation, and residential supports, and 17,000 received information and referral services on disability related topics.
“It seems ridiculous to me that we are not identifying the savings associated with this,” Healy said.
She said her center gets about 55 percent of its funding from the federal government and the other 45 percent from the state.
The centers were funded at about $372,000 last year before they were cut further in July bringing the allocation for each of the five centers down to $40,000 each. The 2016 budget cuts had already reduced the service areas from 169 cities and towns down to 25.
Following that 60 percent budget cut in 2016, Healy said some centers reduced staff, and others introduced waiting lists so some clients with disabilities are waiting six months to a year for services.
“During that time period individuals lose their jobs, they lose their housing, they get put into institutional settings that cost the state far more money than what the centers are getting,” Healy said.
She said the demand for these services will increase as the state continues to cut other human service line items.
“People with disabilities are vulnerable,” Jade Vail, an employee and a client at one of the centers, said. “Balancing the budget on the backs of Connecticut’s most at-risk citizens is wrong.”
She said they want their funding restored to the full $528,680 allocation and is worried not only about her job, but also her ability to continue to maintain her independence.
“I will be a burden on the system, instead of continuing to contribute to it,” Vail said. “My sense of purpose, well-being, and value will be greatly diminished.”
But it’s a tall ask in a year when lawmakers are struggling to close a two-year, $3.6 billion budget deficit.
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, who is the Appropriations Committee Human Services subcommittee co-chair, said the subcommittee did not recommend eliminating the line item, but it did recommend a reduction in the $372,000 allocation the centers received last year.
She said every nonprofit organization funded by the state budget will receive a cut. At the same time lawmakers recognize the important work done by these centers and fully support their mission.
“We had to make some tough decisions in this budget,” Abercrombie said.
The legislature’s Appropriations Committee is expected to release its spending proposal by the end of the month.