AREA NEWSThe Putnam Examiner

Lawmakers, Agencies Blast Cuomo’s Budget Cuts to Developmentally-Disabled

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo

A proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reduce the state’s contribution toward programs for the developmentally-disabled is raising concerns of elected officials and social service agencies throughout Westchester and Putnam counties.

The 6 percent, across-the-board reduction for programs provided by the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities would not only cut the state’s contribution by $120 million, a matching contribution of $120 million from the federal government would also be lost.

State Sen. Greg Ball (R-C/Patterson) was among the elected officials who criticized Cuomo’s proposal last week.

“We should not and cannot be balancing the state budget on the backs of our most vulnerable population,” Ball said. “In a time when these services are needed and being used more than ever we should be increasing the funding and not slashing it.”

State Sen. Terry Gipson (D-Rhinebeck) urged that there be no cuts for the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities. He even compared potential the fallout if the cuts are allowed to go through to the deplorable conditions discovered at Willowbrook in Staten Island in the early 1970s.

“Restoring the $120 million will go a long way in providing the care, concern and compassion to those who are neediest among us,” Gipson said. “These cuts will sadly result in closed facilities, loss of services and a potential return to the bad old days of Willowbrook, which no one wants to see happen. I am fully committed to convincing the governor that these budget cuts must be avoided at all costs.”

Several officials from social service agencies that provide assistance for individuals with developmental disabilities also expressed alarm at Cuomo’s proposal. The Hawthorne-based Arc of Westchester would have its funding reduced by $2.2 million under Cuomo’s plan. The agency’s executive director, Richard Swierat, said the cuts would be damaging to the welfare of his clients.

“The lives of our loved ones are at stake,” he said. “Residential, day programs and teenage transitional programs are among those at risk of being impacted in the near future,” Swierat said. “In a time when demand for our services is on the rise–with increased autism diagnoses, expanded life expectancy and more families than ever turning to us for our life-transforming assistance–we cannot allow our government’s commitment to people with developmental disabilities to be weakened.”

The cut would translate into a $1.2 million loss in revenue for The Arc of Putnam County, Executive Director Susan Limongello said last week.

“Over the past three years, Putnam Arc has taken over $1 million in cuts. These newest cuts will directly impact the staff members who provide critical services to children and adults with developmental disabilities,” Limongello said. “We are anticipating reducing our workforce which will put the most vulnerable Putnam County residents at risk. These cuts could also have a life-changing impact for families who depend on Putnam Arc for vital programs and services.”

Other officials from agencies that assist the developmentally disabled made their sentiments known during a conference call last week at the office of Michael Piazza Jr., commissioner of the Putnam County Department of Social Services. Piazza said the governor’s plan would cost his agency $2 million.

Howard Yager, executive director of the Hudson Valley Cerebral Palsy Association, said under Cuomo’s plan the organization would lose $70,000 in state and federal funding. The funding reduction would be detrimental “to the quality of life for the people we serve,” he said.

Tina Cornish-Lauria, executive director of Careers for People With Disabilities in Valhalla, said her agency assists about 400 people annually with job training and support services. Careers for People With Disabilities does not have much overhead and there would be fewer services if the governor’s cutback goes through, she said.

“The only place we can cut is programs,” Cornish-Lauria said.

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