Representatives from the state’s independent living centers appealed to the Connecticut legislature on Tuesday to reject Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal to cut off their funding in his current budget proposal.
The state’s five centers currently receive $202,005 from the state government, split evenly among them, significantly less than the $495,637 they received in the 2015–16 fiscal year. The legislature actually voted to allocate $372,000 to the centers in 2016–17 budget period, but simultaneously granted Malloy the executive authority to install holdbacks. Malloy then made the executive decision to decrease that amount by approximately $170,000. The centers also currently receive about $190,000 each from the federal government, with the rest of their budgets coming from fundraising efforts.
In response to the 2017 cuts, the centers decreased their services from 169 towns to just 25, laid off staff and halted some of their services. More budget cuts would result in additional layoffs and service reductions, said Eileen Healy, executive director of Independent Northwest and former president of the Connecticut Association of Centers for Independent Living. Some centers, she said, might even be forced to close their doors, which will lead to people turning to nursing homes and hospitals for care — a significantly more costly option.
Each center operates as an independent nonprofit that bridges the gap between individuals in need and social services. Though they are not residential centers themselves, individual living centers help individuals find housing, get medical care at home and file paperwork for social services, among other things, Healy said. By helping individuals live in the community, the centers not only improve the quality of life of those individuals but also save money for the state, she added.
The average cost of care in a nursing home is $147,000 per person per year, according to Healy, while the cost of care at home is about a third of that — amounting to about $11 million in savings for the state annually.
“It’s just far cheaper for the state and better for the individual,” Healy said.
However, these centers have recently been experiencing steady cuts, said Daria Smith, executive director of the Connecticut State Independent Living Council. Though Malloy has proposed cutting off funding completely in the past, these cuts represent a bigger threat because they come in conjunction with federal cuts, she said. She added that President Donald Trump’s recently released budget proposed cuts to a multitude of government aid programs.
“The situation is not unique, but what makes it a double whammy is that last year, when we were having this conversation, we did not also have looming federal cuts,” Smith said.
Although, according to Smith, the federal government has not yet made cuts to independent living directly, it has made cuts to specific programs that individuals seeking assistance at the centers and the centers themselves rely on. One such example is the Community Development Block Grant.
Some community members are already feeling the impact of these cuts. Jade Vail, an advocate and options councilor at Independence Unlimited — an independent living center in Hartford — used services at the center herself before becoming employed by the organization. In 2008, she found herself disabled, unemployed and homeless. Independence Unlimited helped her take control of her life, she said. Since then, she has joined the organization and become an advocate for other disabled individuals.
“Personally, as someone with a disability and from a lot of consumers and friends of mine that are people with disabilities, it’s hard for us to feel valued as people right now when lawmakers are trying so hard to cut the services that we get,” said Vail, who has cerebral palsy.
When contacted, the governor’s office expressed regret at having to cut services, but emphasized the state’s legal obligation to close the government’s deficit.
“We have an obligation to present a balanced budget proposal to the General Assembly and to close a projected $1.7 billion deficit, and, as a result, there were difficult program reductions,” said Chris McClure, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Policy and Management. “In this slow growth economic environment, we are aligning state government spending to revenues just like the households and businesses of Connecticut, and those expenditure cuts — $850 million last year and a proposed $1.36 billion this year -— are going to impact the services the state can and will provide.”
Both independent living center leaders and state legislators understand the need to make cuts, but they do not believe cutting all funding to the organizations are the correct cuts to make. State Sen. Len Suzio, R-Cheshire, pointed to the fact that $200,000 is a negligible amount of the $20 billion state budget. Additionally, he also noted that in the long term, this measure will cost the state money.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle GRD ’81, R-Norwalk, shared Suzio’s sentiments. Lavielle said she believes that hard negotiations between the governor and public sector unions is a more viable solution to the state’s deficit than cutting all funding from independent living centers. Neither Lavielle nor Suzio believe that the General Assembly will vote to cut funding completely.
“There’s loads of funding cuts and some of them in the grand scheme of things don’t seem very big, but they mean a lot to the people receiving them,” Lavielle said. “Why they are bringing this up before talking about benefit reform is beyond me. It’s ludicrous.”