Jan 24, 2012

Advocates for disabled worried about proposed budget cuts

Advocates for disabled worried about proposed budget cuts

Local parents of disabled children met Monday to voice their worries about Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget cuts, which some say will leave disabled Floridians without the help they need. About 40 parents and agency representatives who provide services to the disabled met at Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc. onWest Silver Springs Boulevard to voice concerns over insufficient funding for programs they say their children and clients need to live productive and meaningful lives.

Suzanne Sewell, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Rehabilitation, was the guest speaker. She is a lobbyist who represents organizations that work with disabled Floridians, including Goodwill.

Sewell warned that Scott's $66.4 billion budget proposes to slice nearly $38 million from Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities, leaving the agency with $772.5 million for the year beginning July 1.

Under Scott's proposal, if the agencymakes the cuts, it would receive an additional $24 million to help “restructure” the agency to improve efficiencies.
The agency spent $975 million last year providing services tomore than 30,000 people. That was $169 million over its budget. Scott had to release emergency funds to bridge the gap. It also was the third year in a row the agency spentmore than it was allocated.

Sewell encouraged those who attended the meeting to contact their legislators to object to the cuts. She said that while the Agency for Persons with Disabilities should stop spending more than it's allocated, its budget needed to be $870 million tomeet clients' needs.

“If it's not budgeted at $870 million, I think there are going to be catastrophic consequences,” she said. Sewell said that the $870 million spending is appropriate and reflects a substantial decrease compared with the $975 million the agency spent last year for services. The next step is for the Florida House and Senate to consider Scott's proposal. Some of the cuts stem from Scott's budget plan to spend an additional $1 billion for education this year.

Jean-MarieMoore, Goodwill's operations director for human services for a 10-county region, said her organization was bound to be affected if lawmakers approve Scott's proposals. Goodwill's services include adult training and supervised work programs. Goodwill subsidizes 40 percent of that cost through its sales.

“So instead of a person coming to adult day training five days a week, they'll be able to come three days a week, or two, or not at all,” she said. She estimates between 50 percent and 65 percent of families with disabled persons will see cuts to
their benefits. The Goodwill on Silver Springs Boulevard employs about 40 clients. Her Goodwill region has already closed two group homes during the past five years and cut its support living program.

Both Sewell and Moore, however, said it was too soon to predict just how Scott's cuts would affect specific programs. Sandy Dayton said her mentally disabled son, Tony, will likely be one of those people getting less help. The 27-year-old disabled man lives in a group home.

“When you have a child with a disability, you're in another world,” Dayton said.
Her son works at the Goodwill. The store's supervisor, Derek Arnold, said that if funding is cut, taxpayers will pay through other channels. “And if he's not here, perhaps he'll find other ways to … (spend their time),” Arnold said. “He can
land himself in trouble or (be) hurt. Someone's going to front the cost.”

Agency for Persons with Disabilities spokeswomanMelanie Etters said she didn't know of any proposed cuts, only about the $24 million additional money for restructuring.
Scott's recommended appropriations act for 2012-13 obtained by the Star-Banner, however, shows the cuts Sewell discussed Monday. Scott's deputy press secretary, Jackie Schultz, responded to the Star-Banner with an email. “Governor Scott is proposing savings as well as restructuring to get spending at APD under control,” she wrote. “By allocating funds and making some adjustments within the agency, it
should have a positive effect on getting the agency to operate within their budget to avoid future deficits and get people off of the waiting list.”

She went on to say, “Restructuring will take the form of consolidating services and standardizing rates. Governor Scott's recommendations suggest reducing the amount, scope and duration of certain services offered.”

By Fred HiersStaff writer
Contact Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@starbanner.comand