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Disabled lobby for funding restoration

One of the areas of disagreement in the state budget centers on funding for services for New York’s developmentally disabled people. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his budget plan cut $120 million in funding for groups that provide services to the developmentally disabled. The cuts come after Congress determined that New York had been over billing the federal government for Medicaid services for state-run centers for the developmentally disabled.  Providers of group homes, day programs, and vocational services say it’s unfair to make up for the federal cuts at their expense. Some of the groups brought clients and their families to the Capitol for a silent vigil to protest the cuts.

Dede Barcelo has a developmentally disabled brother who lives in a group home.  She says she worries about everything, especially that staff and services will be cut.  

“They’ve already cut a lot as it is,” Barcelo said. “How much more can this organization cut and still maintain its citizens?”

Margaret Raustiala, who also came to lobby against the cuts, has an autistic son who lives in a group home, and is actively involved in a day program, where he volunteers at a soup kitchen and delivers meals on wheels. But she says he needs constant support from an aid.

Raustiala is worried that the cut proposed by Cuomo, which would be a six percent across the board reduction, would mean staff cuts. She says 75 percent of the budget for the group home and its programs is for employees.  

“I’m afraid there’s going to be layoffs,” said Raustiala, who says her son is unable to handle money or cross the street safely by himself. “I don’t think we put people under house arrest simply for being developmentally disabled,” she said.

Both the Senate and the Assembly have restored the funding in their one-house budget resolutions, saying that it was critical funding that would result in “severe hardship” if it were eliminated.

Cuomo has said that he’s open to the idea of restorations, but in recent comments he made after an appearance in Westchester, the governor lectured the providers of services to the disabled, saying they would have to learn to make do with less.

“I don’t accept the point that just because you are spending less you can’t do the job that you need to do,” Cuomo said. “I believe in many areas the state was actually spending more money than it needed to be spending.”

Dede Barcelos’ answer: “He’s not making do with less,” she said. “But he expects everyone else to.”

The governor and lawmakers have just a few more days to agree on a final spending plan in order to meet their self-imposed early budget deadline.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.