I have severe disabilities, including brain injury and spinal cord injury, due to accidents in 1985 and 1992. I write to object to the willingness of some in the legislature to consider raising revenue to balance the state budget but ONLY to save municipalities from cuts, and NOT to prevent further shredding of the safety net for people like me.
I am on the board of the Connecticut State Independent Living Council, which is a statewide planning council that works in partnership with the five Centers for Independent Living (ILCs).
I took part in the spinal cord peer support group at Independence Unlimited, one of these centers, when I first became injured. Under the proposed state budgets, the ILCs are threatened with the elimination of all state funding, which would mean a dramatic reduction in ILCs’ ability to help people like me obtain the independent living services they need to avoid institutionalization. Without access to services, individuals with disabilities, who rely on the ILCs to find and keep housing and to navigate daily living, could be forced into expensive nursing facilities, costing the state millions.
In addition, ILCs help individuals across the state to get and keep jobs. Therefore, the ILCs are contributing to the economy by supporting employees who earn and spend money and pay taxes.
But this is just one of many cuts to the social services safety net proposed in the various state budgets. For example, all of the proposed budgets would provide for the termination of Medicaid eligibility for almost 50,000 people — 9,500 on HUSKY A and at least 39,000 on the Medicaid program known as the Medicare Savings Program — and the Governor’s proposed budget would cut the Medicare Savings Program even deeper.
The Governor’s budget also would terminate all funding for the Community First Choice program which pays for personal care attendants, plus freeze the state-funded Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders, both of which help people avoid institutionalization. It would also completely eliminate the State-Administered General Assistance (SAGA) program which ensures people with disabilities are not made homeless waiting for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Additionally, it would end funding for the regional mental health boards, deeply cut legal services for individuals in the mental health system, and cut adult dental services under Medicaid, among many, many other deep cuts.
Because of the severity of the cuts, the Connecticut Cross-Disability Lifespan Alliance, a broad coalition of advocates, individuals, and disability-related organizations, wrote to the Governor and all members of the legislature on June 14, urging them to look at reasonable revenue solutions instead of making these cuts.
While these groups did not get any joy out of advocating for this, they explained that it is a lesser evil given the severe state budget deficit and the need to balance the budget. They specifically cited the well-thought out revenue proposals developed by CT Voices for Children. Dozens of other state groups have cited these proposals, as a better alternative to further cuts to the safety net.
Given this concerted advocacy, it was very disappointing to hear legislative leaders talking this past week about finally being willing to raise revenue from adjustments to the sales tax — one of the ideas of CT Voices — but NOT in order to save these various critical programs, and rather so that funding to towns would not be cut.
I am sure that cutting municipal budgets would cause some pain. But it is distressing that legislators would seize upon the very revenue options emphasized by the advocates for people with disabilities and other low-income residents specifically to prevent harm to them, and then propose to use one of those options for a different purpose — while proceeding full steam ahead to gut the essential programs relied upon by low-income Connecticut residents.
I note that many of our Democratic leaders have rightly condemned the bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act pending in the Congress, which is really a Medicaid Destruction Bill designed to give tax breaks to rich people — and take hundreds of billions of dollars from low income people on Medicaid to fund these tax breaks.
For example, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appropriately declared that the House’s version of this destructive bill on the federal level “isn’t a healthcare plan — it’s tax relief for the wealthy.” He said that the bill “threatens coverage for some of our most vulnerable populations, including seniors, persons with disabilities, and all Americans with pre-existing conditions.”
Yet, on the state level, our elected leaders don’t seem to see that the same moral choices have to be made by them. They are unwilling to raise taxes even a little on the wealthy so that these kinds of drastic cuts can be avoided here. And, while they are now willing to consider raising the broad-based sales tax, they apparently are not willing to do so to prevent destruction of what is left of the social services safety net.
Budgets are ultimately moral documents, expressing what a society values. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents with disabilities, the 1 out of 5 residents on Medicaid, and the tens of thousands of low income individuals and families trying to avoid homelessness, I urge the Governor and our legislative leaders to reject a narrow view of revenue. People with disabilities also have a major, direct stake in this fight — and they vote. I urge that all of the revenue options be put on the table so that none of these essential programs have to be cut.
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