In the past two weeks, four bills and two resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate in regards to restoring funds to agencies that work with the developmentally disabled.
Budget cuts that took effect in October forced multiple agencies throughout the state to cut programming, consolidate group housing and lay-off workers.
Representative David Bennett is the sponsor of a bill introduced on Jan. 12 that would seek to restore funds to human service agencies through funds from the supplementary budget.
“It was brought to us in a different fashion,” said Bennett of the initial proposed cuts. “We were told it would affect providers. Well it didn’t, it’s affecting the clients.”
Bennett’s bill has been broken down into various categories, discerning who would get what payments. He said he is unsure of how much money is in the supplemental budget at this time, but “we can’t afford not to do it,” he said.
His ultimate plan is to increase taxes by 2 percent for the rich, or those who make more than $500,000 per year.
“Representative Guthrie introduced a bill for [the tax increase] last year, and I co-sponsored it,” said Bennett. “But it got shot down. And where did we go instead for the money? The developmentally disabled.”
Bennett said a tax increase for the wealthy could pad state coffers by an extra $167 million, which he hopes could help restore human service agencies’ funds.
Representative Joseph McNamara has also introduced a resolution regarding restoring the previously cut funds.
“This is really important; it directly affects the developmentally disabled constituents in Warwick, and it comes at a time when many families are facing challenges at home,” he said. “It affects some of the city’s most beloved citizens.”
His resolution calls for “any money in the treasury not already appropriated for the fiscal year” to be restored to “any reduction made … to the budget services for the developmentally disabled.” The sum quoted in the resolution is $24 million; the amount cut from human service agencies in the fall.
“Funding for the proposal will come from the state forfeiting a $12 million federal match,” said McNamara.
Thomas Mullaney, budget officer and executive director of the R.I. State Budget Office, said the language in the resolution indicates that should there be additional non-appropriated funding left over in the budget, the available money could be matched by federal funding.
However, Mullaney and Paul Dion, chief of the Office of Revenue Analysis, agree that there is no such money left in the state’s budget, and there’s actually a $6.7 million deficit.
McNamara said he is “thinking prospectively for the future and for the next budget.”
His intention for this resolution, which has been referred to the House Finance Committee, is to give those affected by the cuts a chance to voice their concerns; a chance many protesters said they were not granted last year.
John DiMarco, executive director of Westbay Residential Services, said the cuts are forcing his agency to lose between $70,000 and $100,000 a month.
DiMarco said a restoration in funds would help Westbay to get out of the red and to restore programming that was cut. He would also like to give employees back holidays and sick days that were cut.
Though he’s not sure on the particular language of the bills, he hopes that something will come through soon. When would he like to see a restoration of funds by?
“Yesterday,” he said.
DiMarco said the effect on his clients has been the hardest to bear, saying that clients have admitted to depression and nightmares over cuts to their activities and programs.
“There’s been an awful lot of loss,” he said.
McNamara said many families who are caring for their adult children are actually saving the state money they would have spent on institutions in the past.
“We’ve come a long way since the Ladd School,” said Bennett.
But without necessary funding, these caretakers, many of who are older adults, are becoming overburdened due to cuts in programming, transportation and housing.
“Cutting these services was not the answer,” said McNamara.
Because multiple bills and resolutions with the same goals have been introduced, Bennett foresees them being combined and heard before the Finance Committee. He is not sure on a timeframe for the hearing.
“We’ve got to do something, and it’s got to be done soon,” he said. “Who’s suffering? The clients and the parents. I’m passionate about helping people, and when I ran for office, I didn’t think about the other side of the fence: taking things away from people.”