HARTFORD, CT — People with disabilities and their advocates literally took over the state Capitol Tuesday imploring legislators to break their impasse and pass a budget that doesn’t cut programs that help those most in need.
From a packed press conference in the Legislative Office Building — which spilled into an overflow crowd in the hall of the House of Representatives and then onto the lawn for a rally — to occupying the governor’s office, advocates made sure they were heard by legislators, many of whom were in the building attending caucuses.
Five people — each with developmental disabilities — were even arrested after staging a protest in the front lobby of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office. The five, who said they were upset about cuts to programs for the state’s most needy, were charged with trespassing.
“We’re here today because the legislature hasn’t passed a budget,” said Edwin “Win” Evarts, the executive director of The Arc Connecticut, an advocacy group that lobbies for people with disabilities. “The result of this policy decision is there is a loss of services and program closures.”
Two of those who were waiting to lobby legislators were Noreen Simmons and her 12-year-old son, Nate, who were there showing support for Weller Simmons, 16, who is intellectually disabled and has autism.
“They should not be cutting programs that help my brother,” Nate Simmons said.
Noreen Simmons said she is particularly concerned that as her son gets older that programs that can help him will dwindle.
“I’m very nervous about what happens when he turns 21,” she said. “I worry there won’t be any programs left if we keep cutting programs like we have been.”
Those lobbying for the disabled were heard by legislators.
“There is no stronger function we have in the state of Connecticut than to take care of those who need the most help,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said at the jammed packed Legislative Office Building press conference.
Fasano said the disabled and their advocates packing the halls of the legislature Tuesday was exactly the right approach to take to get their message heard.
“You have to stand up and say we’re not going to take it,” Fasano said. “You need to get a commitment that they will not cut those programs.”
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the governor has to run the state of Connecticut as he deems appropriate through an executive order. It’s under that executive order that services for the disabled are being squeezed.
“While unfortunate and my heart goes out to them, we are doing everything we can to settle on a two-year budget agreement that will offer them stability moving forward,” Aresimowicz said.
Aresimowicz has refused to pass a temporary 90-day budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says would give nonprofits enough money to weather what could be a lengthy discussion on the two-year budget.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the emails and the phone calls from the community have helped add to the sense of urgency.
Aresimowicz said he expects to see more civil disobedience similar to what occurred today in the governor’s office.
“It’s not a comfortable situation,” Aresimowicz said.
He added that Connecticut is not alone. “Every state is facing it,” Aresimowicz said. “The economy is changing in this country.”
Despite those budget challenges, a legislator who advocates for the disabled and is one of their biggest supporters, told the group to continue the fight.
“You don’t want speeches, you want a resolution,” Rep. Mike Demicco, D-Farmington, said.
He applauded the disabled and their advocates for swarming the building Tuesday.
“You brought a human face to the budget problem,” Demicco said. “Keep up the good work.”