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Families of disabled ask state government not to cut money for services

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Advocates for the disabled will be out in force in Syracuse Friday, rallying against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed cuts to the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. The six percent across-the-board budget proposal would mean major cuts to the agencies across the state that provide support and services for the developmentally disabled. Many families are afraid of what will happen if those services go away.

Harriet Silverman gets a call every day from her adult daughter Stephanie, with reports of what she's doing that day. With the help of the non-profit Enable, she goes bowling, or to dances. She recently lost 100 pounds, and is very proud of how she looks.  Her mother doesn't want to think of Stephanie's life without these programs.

"I'm sure she'd just sit. And do nothing. And just wither away," said Silverman.

Christopher and Melissa Gilbert of Syracuse are on the other end of the spectrum. They have two developmentally disabled sons, aged 11 and 13.  For them Enable programs means lesson planning, learning life skills or transportation to activities like swimming lessons, and perhaps most importantly for their mother: "Hope. I think if these services were cut... I'd lose hope. Having these services now makes me think one day my children would be independent," she said.

Specifically, these cuts, if they go through, would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars lost to a variety of agencies and local governments, says Enable Executive Director Prudence York.

"Six percent to Enable means $540,000. Six percent to Onondaga County means $3.6 million, and six percent to Oswego County government means over $800,000. That's a lot of services for that amount of money," said York.

Christopher Gilbert says these lost services won't mean the need goes away. "The governor wants to take this away but he's not looking at what happens of if anything replaces this. These are humans. They're not going to just disappear.  If you take all these things away, what's left… are you going to institutionalize these people?" asked Gilbert.

Credit Ellen Abbott/WRVO
WRVO's Ellen Abbott interviews Harriet Silverman, whose adult daughter attends programs for the disabled.

Silverman says she has seen her daughter and the disabled community make such strides over the last few decades, she doesn't understand why the governor would want to take services away from  people that can't fight back.

"It's like he's going against the American With Disabilities Act. We've come so far, that there's…there's… it's crazy to go backwards now," she said.

Cuomo's proposed cut of $240 million dollars saved would repay the federal government for overpayments to the state Medicaid program for services that weren't delivered.

Families and advocates are asking state lawmakers to vote against the cuts.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.