Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 6 percent cut to the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities voluntary not-for-profit providers would have a real impact on real people.
That’s the message representatives of the Herkimer Area Resource Center and related agencies in his district want State Sen. James Seward to take back to Albany Monday.
They gathered at HARC Friday afternoon to meet with Seward and let him know what these proposed cuts, scheduled to take effect April 1, would mean to the services they offer and the people they serve.
For HARC, the second largest employer in Herkimer County, a 6 percent reduction would mean a $1.2 million cut. The agency has already had to deal with $1.1 million in state cuts which impacted the agency’s 2012 budget, according to a news release. “The cuts locally would have a detrimental effect on the agency’s ability to maintain quality services and to employ staff to provide services,” the release stated.
Jeanne DeParedes, an HARC board member whose adult son receives services from HARC, said reductions in funding would hurt both the disabled and their families who rely on HARC’s services. She works full-time and her son participates in the workshop and adult respite recreation program and enjoys his time there.
“He gets up in the morning and looks at his calendar,” she said, adding that he looks forward to the activities HARC offers.
“The adult respite recreation program is his only chance to be with his peers,” said DeParedes. She added that cutting the program “would be very sad and very devastating.”
HARC board member Stephanie Dyer is in a similar situation with her 23-year-old son Patrick, who has autism and receives services at HARC.
“I don’t know how I would continue to work full-time if it weren’t for HARC,” she said. “I know that my son is cared for and has opportunities to grow. He’s happy and well-adjusted.”
HARC board member Brian Wedemeyer, who receives services at HARC, said he did not know what the effects would be, but did not want to see programs reduced or eliminated.
Jeff Perlanski, an HARC staff member, told about the social improvement he had seen in a man he has been working with for the past three-and-a-half years. He also told about an individual who had been aggressive and had behavioral problems when he started. “He didn’t speak; now he speaks in sentences to staff and even to strangers,” he said. There have been no more behavioral issues either. He said taking these programs away would be “appalling.”
Also on hand to voice their concerns and tell their stories were representatives from Pathfinder Village, Delaware ARC, Springbrook, ARC of Otsego and Madison-Cortland ARC, all located in Seward’s Senate district.
Page 2 of 3 - Erica Ostwald, a woman with autism who receives services and works at Madison-Cortland ARC said she is grateful for the support of her family and the help she receives from ARC, including a job coach. She added that it is not fair that Cuomo is planning to make these cuts.
Christine Sears, of Madison-Cortland ARC, said families are frightened and devastated at the prospect of these funding cuts. She pointed out that not all of the people ARC serves are as independent as Ostwald.
Pat Knuth, of ARC of Otsego, said previous funding cuts have hit the agency hard. “We’ve cut to the bare bones,” she said. She added that some of the people served could not come to Friday’s session “because it would take roughly an hour to get them in and out of the van and they have to be repositioned every two hours.”
“This will dramatically impact people’s quality of life,” said Seth Haight, of Springbrook. “Their experiences and outcomes will change and this will have a cascading effect.”
One representative said it was important to stand up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, but are “being used as a political football.”
Concerns about the impact of rising costs, partly due to unfunded mandates, were also raised. Mandates deal with matters ranging from fire safety to determining whether or not a hotdog is a choking hazard for each consumer.
Seward told the group that when the governor released his 30-day amendment to the proposed 2013-14 executive budget, he included the 6 percent cut to New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities not-for-profit providers to make up for some $500 million the federal government is seeking to recoup from the state for overpayment on Medicaid.
He said he was familiar with the work that the agencies represented do. “You’re very compassionate, you give the dignity of work, safe homes and skills training to the most vulnerable of our population,” said Seward. “I also recognize the economic impact these cuts would have.”
Since the governor’s proposal came out, he said, “In the Senate we’ve been scrambling on a fast track,” as the legislature tries to complete the budget on time.
“This is a problem that needs to be fixed in some way,” he said of the cuts to the state OPWDD. He described the across the board cuts as a knee-jerk solution and added, “We’re looking for more creative and innovative ways to solve the problem.”
Some of those present pointed out that the voluntary agencies had received none of the overpaid funds and questioned why they should be the ones to pay the money back. Seward was also asked if the money had to be paid back in one year when the overpayments occurred over a period of about 10 years.
Page 3 of 3 - Seward said these are issues that will be raised.