Families Deliver Message of Just How Harmful DDS Budget Cuts Would Be

April 13, 2015
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Sen. Hwang, Reps. Bolinsky and Case join The Arc CT for a community forum in Newtown.

NEWTOWN – The community room at the C.H. Booth Library was near capacity Thursday night as families who have intellectually and developmentally disabled loved ones turned out to talk with state legislators.

The 2.5-hour conversation largely centered on cuts in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed biennial budget to the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS) budget and, within that, a reduction in funding for the Voluntary Services Program (VSP). Through their stories, which at various points drew tears and laughter, the families conveyed in no uncertain terms how critical those services are and how devastating the cuts would be.

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The informational forum was co-hosted by state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28), state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky (R-106), state Rep. Jay Case (R-63), and The Arc of Connecticut, which describes itself on its website as “an advocacy organization committed to protecting the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to promoting opportunities for their full inclusion in the life of their communities.”

Shannon Jacovino, Director of Advocacy & Public Policy at Arc, explained that the genesis for the forum was an outpouring of concern from families in Newtown and throughout the state about the proposed cuts to DDS, which come to a department that has been hit with millions of dollars in reductions for at least the past few years, even as the demand for services continues to increase.

Sen. Hwang and Rep. Bolinsky, who are on the 68-member Intellectually/Developmentally Disabled (I/DD) Caucus, wanted to provide those families with an opportunity to share their concerns, so they are better positioned to be their voice in Hartford. Rep. Case, whose brother is intellectually disabled, is one of the three founding members of the I/DD Caucus.

While DDS supports clients with a wide range of disabilities, many of those who spoke Thursday night have Autistic children with severe behavioral issues – who, with no warning, can burst into fits of indiscriminate physical violence, even against their parents and family members. Through VSP, trained professionals come into their home to provide these children with structure and support that helps them to better manage their behavior, while at the same time giving the families respite so they can tend to their other children, household responsibilities and other daily activities that often take the backburner to the demands of caring for a loved one with a disability.

As one speaker noted, the “Volunteer Services Program” is a complete misnomer; these services are absolutely necessary.

Arc’s Jacovino said, “We have been hearing from more and more families who feel that their children and loved ones are being used as pawns in a political game of chess. We appreciate that I/DD Caucus members, Senator Hwang and Representatives Bolinsky and Case spent the time to listen to this community’s fears and concerns. We know they will take these stories back to Hartford and work hard to restore these vital services.”

“I was truly moved by the stories shared and the passionate advocacy of these parents on behalf of their children,” Sen. Hwang said. “I admire the commitment and unconditional love that these caregivers provide in the face of intense, relentless physical and emotional stress. Cutting the programs these families depend is unconscionable, and it will undoubtedly lead to a much greater financial and social burden for these families and, in turn, our state. I am honored to stand with these families who work so incredibly hard to care for their children.”

Rep. Bolinsky said, “My thanks to every family who joined us, to ARC for their incredible advocacy and to my friend and founding member of the legislature’s I/DD caucus, Representative Jay Case, for providing a much needed neighborhood forum for our local families to meet with Senator Hwang and I about their misgivings about big time budget cuts proposed by Governor Malloy. I think we all learned a lot about just how many of us share these critical concerns. The massive turnout was evidence just how important these discussions are to all of us.”

Rep. Bolinsky added, “It was moving to hear so many stories of success from our I/DD-support families about how so many of our state’s most vulnerable citizens have experienced life-changing transformations through programs that allow them to stay in their families’ loving homes, acquire useful social skills, learn and work nearby.”

“It is extremely important for us, as lawmakers, to hear constituent concerns,” Rep. Case said. “This year, it’s even more important to hear from individuals and families with friends or relatives with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We heard their concerns, and we won’t simply stand by and let the governor cut these necessary services.”

While some families in attendance said they’d be willing to pay higher taxes if it meant a restoration of DDS funding, the legislators encouraged them not to fall into that trap. Sen. Hwang noted how, despite record tax increases over the past few years, the state is still facing an estimated $1.7 billion deficit over the next two fiscal years. Instead of cutting critical services like VSP, he said, legislative leadership needs to have the courage to reduce spending in responsible ways that won’t directly impact services, like moving to a defined contribution pension for state employees instead of a defined benefit, for example.

The legislators also noted how they have, in essence, been handcuffed by a “gag order” from the Governor’s Office that prohibits any state commissioner from providing legislators with their thoughts and ideas on programs, priorities, and the cuts and possible funding restorations.

The Arc’s Jacovino, Sen. Hwang and Reps. Bolinsky and Case stressed that everyone in attendance should write and call legislators and the Governor’s Office asking for the funding to be restored, and to tell their friends and family to do the same. Time is of the essence too, they noted, as the Appropriations Committee is expected to release its proposed budget at the end of this month, before sending it along for a vote in the House and Senate.

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