Nonprofits Could be Devastated Without State Budget

Connecticut passed by a critical deadline without a budget in place.

On Friday, Governor Dannel Malloy signed an executive order to keep government running, but it means massive cuts are on the way. The slash in funding may be devastating to nonprofits and the people they serve.

"These are individuals who require the services we provide, they're not optional services," said Oak Hill President and CEO Barry Simon.

Oak Hill is a private nonprofit and the state's largest provider of services for people with disabilities. They help tens of thousands of people in dozens of towns.

"These are real people who are really being affected by services that aren't going to happen because of this," Simon said.

"These are what I would term massive cuts to the very core of the private provider system in Connecticut, and that's the system that provides about 90 percent of all assistance to people with intellectual disabilities, not state employees, private providers," said President of the Board of Directors for The Arc of Connecticut, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Tom Fiorentino.

Someone who depends on private providers is Tom's son, Daniel Fiorentino, who has Down Syndrome.

"In some ways it's like being the parent of any other child. I worry about him all the time, about his happiness, his future, but with someone with a disability, whether it's Down Syndrome or something else, you have extra worries. What's going to happen when my wife and I aren't here?" said Tom.

Daniel works at a dermatologist office three days a week and has a job coach from a private provider. Two days a week he has an art program with a private provider. It allows him to create beautiful paintings that hang in the home. But with severely reduced funding from the state, all those services are at risk of being cut or eliminated.

"There are other ways, I think, to get [lawmakers] to the table. There are other cuts (the governor) could have made that would have given the money he needs without inflicting the pain and damage these cuts are going to inflict," said Tom.

Another person affected by the cuts is Andrew Puglisi. Andrew has cerebral palsy, cortical blindness, epilepsy, and behavior disorders.

"He needs a lot of hands-on care. He needs care with bathing. He needs care with walking out in the community because of his blindness. He needs care with cutting up his food," said Andrew's mother, Lois Nitch.

Daniel has received care from Oak Hill for more than 30 years. He's been in the same group home with the same three people for 18 years.

"I was told the other day that Andy's group home is closing. I have no idea where he's going. I have no idea where the three men are going," said Lois. "This is devastating. It really is, and it shouldn't be dollars and cents. This is people's lives."

The state depends on the services provided by nonprofits, and, in turn, organizations depend on the state. For Oak Hill, Simon, the CEO and president, says they've had 12 years of reduced or flat funding from the state and that the move that begins at midnight is an all-out crisis, forcing cuts and closures to group homes and programs.

"We're running probably a $100,000 deficit in some of these programs because of the inadequate funding that's been happening. We are closing group homes and moving people who have lived together for 20 years," Simon said.

Malloy said on Friday that his focus is on protecting services for the most vulnerable, saying, "This is a regrettable path, and one that I worked very hard to avoid. The executive order offers me less ability to avoid very deep cuts that will have a very real impact on our state and its citizens. Nevertheless, I want to assure the public that my administration will manage our finances during this period in a thoughtful and responsible way. Specifically, my focus will be on protecting services for our most vulnerable: the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, and others who simply cannot care for themselves. And to be clear, even these services will need to be scaled back in one form or another."

He added later in the press conference that a short-term budget supported by him and the senate, and rejected by the house, would have helped.

"I asked for a short term budget so cuts of 10 percent would have been more in the area of 2.5 percent that didn't happen," said Malloy.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter spoke about a lack of a budget on Friday, saying, "We want to get this done, but we want to get this done right. A couple years ago we did a state budget where we kind of rushed it. We came back three weeks later to undo the whole thing. The business community erupted. I'd rather get it right and go into overtime a few days than get it wrong and be back here in a few weeks anyway."

Ritter added that while going into the fiscal year isn't ideal, it's not going to lead to any draconian cuts.

But those affected argue that even a few weeks will do real damage.

"We are making cuts now. July 1 is a real date. Our payments are being cut effective July 1. This is a real date for us and the people we serve," Simon said.

"I sympathize with the governor trying to get the budget passed, but please don't do it on the back of my child," said Tom.

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