‘A Slap In The Face’

A recent proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo looks to cut funding for services to people with developmental disabilities.

The funding cuts would lower the quality of services provided to individuals across New York state and could potentially cause The Resource Center to close some of its residences, eliminate other services and lay off staff.

The proposal came as an amendment to Cuomo’s 2013-14 budget hat would address the $500 million shortfall that has resulted from a reduced amount of federal Medicaid money for New York state. In order to soften the blow of that deficit, the amendment proposes cutting $120 million from the budget for the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. Courtney Burke, OPWDD commissioner, has stated that she intends to have the $120 million cut in funding to her agency come from the budgets of voluntary service providers such as The Resource Center.

A 6 percent cut would invite a host of problems to voluntary agencies like The Resource Center, including, but not limited to reduced levels of care and a mounting difficulty to attract and retain employees.

“I fear this governor’s actions may turn the direction of this caring and successful habilitative-model of service delivery back to the awful days of restrictive institutional settings and warehousing like Willowbrook,” wrote Dr. Todd Jacobson, the president of TRC’s board of directors, in a letter to state lawmakers.

Willowbrook State School, a state-run institution for the developmentally disabled, was shut down in 1987 following a public outcry over the deplorable conditions at the facility.

In a press release from The Resource Center, it called the state’s actions “a slap in the face and a rebuke of a long-standing arrangement whereby voluntary providers have effectively and efficiently supported people with severe disabilities within the community.”

According to Paul Cesana, executive director of The Resource Center, the organization had traditionally incurred financial operating losses and assumed operating liability because of an imperfect, but reasonable, reimbursement methodology. In the past, there was a long-standing practice of the state retroactively attempting to cover voluntary providers’ justifiable operating deficits.

“This methodology was based on a stated, and often cited, partnership between the state of New York and voluntary organizations such as TRC that could meet the needs of the most vulnerable population in our state in a most cost-effective way,” said Cesana. “This partnership and covenant between the state of New York and voluntary organizations such as The Resource Center have been shattered.”

The Resource Center has been reaching out to families to make them aware of the proposed funding cut and the effect it would have, and they’re urging families to contact lawmakers, Cuomo and OPWDD to tell them how the funding cut would impact Chautauqua County residents with disabilities. TRC plans to hold a meeting March 27 to update families on the issue and the many changes taking place within the current system.

“I don’t know exactly what the numbers are going to end up being, but it would certainly have an serious effect,” said Steve Waterson, community relations director at TRC. “The 6 percent cut to all voluntary providers would cover any facilities that aren’t state-run. I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess how many that would actually be, but it’s going to have a tremendous effect on the services that are available. We’ve been having to adjust to funding cuts over the last two or three years already – it’s been roughly a 9 percent cut in funding so far. This 6 percent cut on top of that would be absolutely devastating.”

Waterson says that the situation is very fluid and dynamic right now, and that the OPWDD has been fortunate that Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, and State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, have listened to the requests from local families that have been contacting them.

“The governor is apparently digging in his heels to keep that $120 million cut in the final budget,” said Waterson. “They’re trying to get that finalized in the next week or so, but we’re grateful for the support that the legislature has given to people with disabilities and their families up to this point.”

Goodell, however, says that he’s nearly 100 percent sure that the state legislature will be able to restore funds that were cut by Cuomo’s proposal. The amount that those funds will be restored is still anyone’s guess, though.

According to Goodell, both the Senate and the Assembly enacted their own versions of the budget, called one-house bills, which become almost a wishlist of how the two houses would like to see the budget look in it’s final form. Both one-house bills restored full funding for services to developmentally disabled individuals across New York state.

“This is a very high priority for both myself and Sen. Young and it has received strong bipartisan support from across the state,” said Goodell. “We believe it’s very important to provide a stable and appropriate level of funding. Here in Chautauqua County, both The Resource Center and Aspire provide a tremendous level of service for individuals with developmental disabilities, so we’re strong advocates on their behalf.”

During budget talks, Goodell was appointed as a member of the Budget Reconciliation Committee and one of its areas of responsibility dealt with this program and its potential loss of funding.

“We met as a subcommittee on Tuesday and all of us spoke strongly about the need to restore full funding for these programs,” said Goodell. “Earlier last week, I signed a letter with a majority of assemblymen and women, both Republican and Democrat, so I know it has strong bipartisan support.”

On Wednesday of last week, the Republican members of the Assembly met directly with the Cuomo in the governor’s mansion, and this possible funding cut was one of the issues that was specifically brought up as a top priority. On Thursday, the oversight committee that coordinates all of the budget negotiations met and allocated how much money was available for each subcommittee to restore. According to Goodell, they only allocated $40 million for mental health restorations, which is not nearly enough to restore the entire $120 million cut. On Thursday afternoon, the Budget Reconciliation Committee met for a second time, and the members were unanimous in their desire to request leadership to provide more funding to restore a larger portion of the cut.

“The big negotiations that occur between the Cuomo and the legislative leaders are ongoing regarding what changes need to be made to create a balanced budget,” said Goodell. “Those discussions include issues relating to revenue projections, and the amount of revenue that the state has as a whole will determine how much we can restore.”

Goodell said that he’s still optimistic that the budget will restore funding to the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities , but at this point it is still a waiting game.

“My subcommittee is unanimous in its desire to regain full funding,” said Goodell. “I would urge everyone who is concerned about these cuts to contact Gov. Cuomo’s office and let him know how important this money is for the health and welfare of the individuals that rely on these services in Chautauqua County.

For more information, visit www.resourcecenter.org or phone 483-2344.