December 20, 2014
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Advocates still hopeful funding for disabled will be restored

"People are getting tired. Morale is down,”said John DiMarco, executive director of West Bay Residential, yesterday afternoon.

DiMarco was referring to those who have been rallying to restore budget cuts to agencies that serve the developmentally disabled. Since last fall, agencies like West Bay have been struggling to serve their developmentally disabled clients in the wake of funding cuts totaling $24 million. Through their multiple rallies at the State House, supporters, advocates and agencies hoped to get the attention of legislators and have their funding restored.

In January, several pieces of legislation and two resolutions were introduced to do just that. Yesterday, the House Finance Committee heard eight bills and two resolutions that would partially or fully restore agencies’ funding.

Rep. Frank Ferri, who serves on the House Finance Committee, said the bills serve as a way to open discussions on the topic.

“It brings awareness,” he said. “A lot of attention is being paid to these cuts.”

Ferri said the intent of the original cuts was to streamline the way the sector was being run. Instead, the results were detrimental to clients.

“I think they have to make some adjustments,” he said about the funding.

As of yesterday afternoon, before the hearing, Ferri said he was unsure of the best way to aid the agencies while balancing the budget.

“We all want to see [the funds], in some way, restored,” he said.

Mary Madden, president and CEO of the J. Arthur Trudeau Center, said yesterday afternoon that she expected many people to testify in favor of the pieces of legislation being heard.

“If we’ve got a couple of thousand people, the logistics could be very challenging,” she said. “Plus the State House, which is an old building, is not particularly friendly to people with mobility issues.”

By testifying, advocates are hoping that the FY 2013 budget will restore some or all of the funding they lost last year.

Larry Berman, communications director for House Speaker Rep. Gordon Fox, said the various bills all have the same goal. He said these bills would not likely be voted on and would instead be incorporated into the state budget in late May. Although discussions will continue, Berman said it is unlikely for anything to be set in motion before the Revenue Estimating Conference on May 10, where the House, the Senate and the governor look at the state’s revenue and expenditure projections.

Those in favor of the restoration of funds gathered to rally in the State House rotunda before the hearing yesterday afternoon.

“The theme is to ‘keep the promise,’” said Madden of yesterday’s rally.

“The promise,” she said, refers to the pact to keep those with developmental disabilities out of state institutions like the former Ladd School and help them conduct normal lives within their communities.

Those closest to the developmentally disabled clients at the core of the issue have attended rallies, written letters and spoken with legislators about the impact the funding cuts have had on their loved ones.

“Basically, we’re there to show what the impact is on services and finances,” said DiMarco. “Hopefully, people will understand. This cut is not sustainable.”

“It’s a very difficult time since the cuts were implemented in July,” said Madden. “There have been massive changes to the industry.”

The rally preceded a House Finance Committee hearing of several bills that all aim to fully or partially restore the funding.

Bills by Reps. Raymond Hull and Scott Guthrie would restore assisted living funding, while a resolution by Rep. Joseph McNamara would fully restore the $24 million in cuts with money not already appropriated from the state’s general fund. Another resolution by Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady would do the same with $15 million from the treasury.

Madden said those in the field are trying to approach the restoration of funding realistically, and although a full refund of $24 million would be ideal, she knows it is unlikely.

“We’re mindful of what difficult times we’re in,” she said. Madden said they would be happy if roughly $15 million were restored, a step that would put agencies where they would be had Governor Chafee’s proposed $9.5 million in cuts been approved.


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