It was the same story over and over at a public hearing this past Friday, presided over by Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby.
Speaker after speaker urged Bigby and her panel of EOHHS assistant secretaries and commissioners at the Agganis Arena at Boston University not to cut the budgets of their programs. The hearing room was packed with some 300 people, many of them disabled, and many of them program providers.
Some of those testifying, such as Hang Lee of Multi-Cultural Independent Living Center of Boston and Paul Spooner of the Metro West Center for Independent Living, even urged increased funding for their centers — an additional $1.1 million in each case.
A panel of advocates with the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers simply asked for the budget cuts to stop. “We ask you to remind the governor (who placed $350 million in the state’s rainy day fund earlier this fall) that it’s still raining,” said Gary Blumenthal, president of the organization. Ten thousand families are without support services from the Department of Developmental Services, among the other results of years of budget cutting, he said.
But it doesn’t seem Bigby will be able to do much to push back against the cuts, much less give Lee and Spooner additional funding, if the governor’s budget people decide to take aim once again, as they’ve done all along, at critical DDS programs. Despite an uptick in state revenues that have brought those revenues back to the levels of Fiscal Year 2008, prior to the nation’s economic meltdown, Bigby stated in a notice sent out prior to Friday’s hearing that:
FY 13 will be challenging and require cuts and reductions and the need for the Administration to make difficult decisions.
Sounds like Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez may have already told Bigby to prepare for the worst.
Yet, despite the continuing bad budget news, most of those at the portion of Friday’s hearing devoted to DDS issues still apparently retain the faith that the administration’s plan to close four state developmental centers will somehow rescue them. Several speakers praised Bigby for her efforts to phase down the Fernald, Monson, Templeton, and Glavin centers, apparently hoping that the budgetary “savings” in doing so will be directed to their programs.
Since FY 09, the administration has cut the developmental center line item in the state buget by more than $45 million. But, as I reminded the audience (including Secretary Bigby) when I got my three minutes to speak, we’ve seen no evidence thus far that the community line items have benefited from the cuts in the developmental center account.
Since FY 09, cuts in the community-based accounts include reductions to adult family supports (26.9 percent cut), community transportation (17.6 percent), community day and work (3.8 percent), and Turning 22 (35 percent). As the ADDP has pointed out, direct care workers in the DDS community system haven’t gotten a raise in their relatively meager pay and benefits in four years.
Meanwhile, the list of people waiting for community-based residential care in the state has only grown longer as the administration has transferred residents of the developmental centers to community placements. “Where is the promised expansion of the community system” that was supposed to happen as a result of the developmental center closures? I asked Bigby in my testimony.
Later, I spoke to an EOHHS fiscal executive at the hearing and got no answer to my question from him either.
One of the few at the hearing who understands the extent of the negative impact the developmental center phase-downs have had so far is Stu Dickson, a DDS service coordinator and an organizer with the SEIU Local 509 state employee union. Dickson urged Bigby to restore $5 million to the DDS administrative account, which funds the service coordinators, who arrange for and monitor services for community-based clients.
Dickson later said that despite the ongoing closures of the four developmental centers, DDS has not assigned any additional service coordinators to the community system. The department has repeatedly laid off the coordinators, whose caseloads have grown to nearly unmanageable levels.
Our question to Secretary Bigby and to the opponents of the developmental centers remains: What has the administration done so far, and what will it ever do, to benefit the community system through the developmental center closures?