September 17, 2014
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Legislators to hear stories of cuts to disabled, appeal for funds

Beth Upham has been writing letters on her daughter’s behalf for years. Upham’s 29-year old daughter, Stacy, has cerebral palsy, and Beth often acts as her advocate.

So, this fall, when Beth was told that she should write more letters to her legislators to try and prevent budget cuts to services that aid her daughter, she felt lost.

“I had already [written letters] for three years and got no response,” she said. “I’ve been fighting for this for a long time, in fact.”

At gatherings this fall at West Bay Residential, where her daughter is a resident, Upham met with legislators like Representative Frank Ferri. She told him how she had been writing for years, yet still saw cuts being made to services crucial for her daughter’s well being.

“I’ve already done that, what else can we do?” she asked.

By talking to Ferri, she decided to organize a meeting between West Bay families and Warwick legislators that would be a face-to-face exchange of stories, questions and answers.

In September, Ferri sent out letters to his fellow Warwick legislators inviting them to a meeting with families of those affected by this fall’s cuts.

Soon after, West Bay asked Upham if she would organize a meeting with all of the state’s legislators, so she sent additional letters to the remaining senators and representatives.

“Individuals like Stacy gave benefited from quality care…and flourished in a non-institutional setting,” Upham’s letter reads. “Up to now, the level of funding has afforded individuals like Stacy a life that would otherwise not be possible.”

So far, nine legislators from the Warwick area have responded to Ferri’s invitation and will attend a gathering this Thursday at 6 p.m. at West Bay Residential Services’ office on Knight Street.

“I want it to be very positive,” said Upham.

“It will be emotional,” said Ferri, who is looking forward to hearing their stories first hand before deliberating on the budget next session.

The pair plans to dedicate the first half of the meeting to the families, allowing them to speak and share their stories. The second half will be a question and answer period for both the families and legislators. They expect the gathering to last roughly 90 minutes.

Upham hopes that the legislators will take the family’s stories to heart. She hopes they will enter the next session more informed about the cause.

“The staff hasn’t had a raise in year,” said Upham. “Some of them are making $10 an hour. How do you live on that? You have to see what these people do. It’s totally amazing. I want people to realize what these staff do for my daughter.”

Stacy lives at one of West Bay Residential’s homes in Coventry, and while her housing hasn’t been affected, her staffing has been cut. Upham worries the lessened time Stacy spends interacting with others and staying busy will be detrimental to her daughter’s happiness.

“For my daughter it’s a big deal. She’s so behavioral, if she’s not busy, she’s not happy.”

The cuts passed in 2011 that went fully into effect on Oct. 1 slashed budgets to agencies that aid the developmentally disabled by $24 million. Many agencies have responded by not re-hiring staff due to attrition, cutting day programs and consolidating housing.

“I’m wondering if they had all the facts,” said Upham of the General Assembly’s decision last year.

“As a legislator, you’re supposed to be open to the whole story. But we have budget constraints,” said Ferri. “We have to spend the state’s money as efficiently as possible.”

But Ferri isn’t discounting the possibility that these cuts are a result of misspending elsewhere.

Ferri said the numbers are often a tough issue to tackle, and throughout the process of voting on a budget, many facts and figures get tossed around.

“As we know from the pension, people throw out numbers all the time, and you don’t know whether they’re the right numbers. People use numbers to support their side.”

Ferri told Upham that legislators may want to hear alternatives to budget cuts, and Upham thinks better statewide regulations of agency spending and services would help. Ferri agreed, saying that efficiency is an important part of budgeting, especially in a time of economic instability.

“We’ve taken on the pensions,” Ferri said, “But it doesn’t mean we still don’t have a crisis going on.”

Ferri said the state is headed in the right direction, and if things continue moving forward, agencies like West Bay won’t see further cuts.

“We don’t want to see the Ladd School come back,” said Upham, who fears that could happen if further cuts continue.

Upham hopes that Thursday’s meeting will be informative, and restorative.

“I hope they reinstate the money, or at least don’t cut it again. They’ve got to give some of it back,” said Upham.

But Ferri isn’t so sure that will happen.

“For this budget that we’re in now I don’t think anything can be restored,” he said.


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