Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Gary Gross, Elanah Sherman, Melissa Marshall, Molly Cole, and Elaine Kolb outside Community Court (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Press conferences, rallies, and public testimony weren’t conveying the right message to state lawmakers or Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, so they tried something different and got arrested. 

Last week, after refusing to leave the governor’s Capitol office, Molly Cole, Gary Gross, Elaine Kolb, Melissa Marshall, and Elanah Sherman were arrested. On Wednesday — the 27th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act — the “Capitol Five” were arraigned in Hartford Community Court and received 20 hours of community service for their civil disobedience.

All of them were happy to do it, despite the challenges it presented, like finding parking or taking a day off work to complete it.

“We want a moral budget that doesn’t cut services for people with disabilities,” Marshall said.

She said each of the five budgets produced by the four caucuses and the governor cut services for those with disabilities, just in different ways.

In a letter to the governor, the five said “each one of the budgets involves deep cuts to Medicaid, and to programs to keep people at home rather than in institutions, for people with developmental disabilities, and to support people with mental health conditions to live in the community and be able to contribute instead of needing higher levels of care, to name just a few of the many threatened areas It is simply not true, as some legislative leaders have claimed, that their particular proposed budgets ‘preserve vital social services’ or avoid any cuts to ‘mental health services’ — NONE of the proposed budgets avoid these extreme cuts.”

She said unlike some in the private nonprofit community, they’re not calling for a temporary solution. They don’t want a budget immediately, they just want one that doesn’t cut any services to people with disabilities, even if that means a tax increase.

“We are calling on you and all legislative leaders to not just agree to any budget, but specifically to a budget which increases revenue so that we can stop shredding the safety net beyond the damage already inflicted on it over the past few years,” the five wrote in their letter.

In court Wednesday, Kolb said what’s happening in Washington with healthcare is only going to make matters worse for the disability community.

“Even if they don’t pass it, they’re already cutting back on everything we have fought for,” Kolb said.

The disability rights advocacy of the five has been a life-long vocation.

Cole, who is now retired, said elected officials should get used to these types of protests. She cited the Hartford protest and the one on June 22 outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, where 43 protesters were taken — sometimes forcefully — from their wheelchairs by U.S. Capitol Police.

Cole said she’s been working with the movement for more than 40 years and doesn’t want to “see all of this go down the tubes.” She said it’s worth standing up for.

Getting arrested in the process means “we finally got on their radar,” Marshall said. “It raised people’s awareness.”

Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said the governor understands the passion and commitment of these advocates.

“The current system for allocating state funding by Executive Order has never been the Governor’s preference and has resulted in very deep state spending cuts in many areas — much of which could have been avoided had the legislature passed the Governor’s mini-budget,” Donnelly said. “The fact is, Connecticut needs a responsible, balanced biennial budget that supports the people and businesses of the state — now and into our future.”

Back at the state Capitol, another group of disability advocates and nonprofit providers were holding a rally to call attention to the first of six furlough days their staff will have to take because of the legislature’s failure to pass a state budget.

Community nonprofits that work with people with developmental disabilities were forced to take a furlough day today.

The state has been operating since July 1 under an executive order, which cuts funding to the nonprofit community that provides about $1 billion in services annually to Connecticut residents.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Barry Simon, president of Oak Hill (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

The group of nonprofit providers and the largest healthcare union in the state had hoped for a temporary budget solution that would have allowed them to continue to operate as they have in the past, but lawmakers in the House aren’t considering a “mini-budget.”

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said this week that he’s working to find agreement on a two-year budget and at this time isn’t interested in temporary solutions.

Barry Simon, president of Oak Hill, said they have participants in day programs that are home today because his employees are being forced to take a furlough day.

“It is very challenging for us to be dealing with the fact the state depends on us to be providing these services, but we cannot depend on the state to be funding these services,” Simon said.

He said he wishes every legislator had on their mind what is happening to “our participants.”

“Closing the doors of agencies that provide vital services is today’s pain, but the longer this goes on the more people will be hurt, including those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues, coping with domestic violence, homelessness, or making a transition from prison into their communities,” Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said.

SEIU 1199 President David Pickus said legislators need to hear the stories and “finally move past partisanship and come together and pass a budget.”

He pointed out there are “human costs of a budget stalemate.”

Jocelyn Reece, who is a mother and caregiver of a person with an intellectual disability, as well as an employee at Oak Hill, said it’s “sad” that on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act the state of Connecticut is unable to provide services to those that depend on it.

“We rely on the services so I can go to work and support my family,” Reece said, adding that lives are being derailed because of these furlough days.

She said lawmakers are sitting on their hands and refusing to come together to work toward a solution.

Barry Simon, president of Oak Hill, talks about today’s mandated furlough day for community nonprofits that work with people with developmental disabilities. He’s followed by Andrea Barton Reaves of HARC.

Posted by on Wednesday, July 26, 2017

David Pickus president of SEIU 1199 who represents workers in the private and public sector talks about the furlough day for community nonprofits that work with people with developmental disabilities.

Posted by on Wednesday, July 26, 2017