Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed a $240 million cut to the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, which would trickle down to the private and nonprofit agencies that work with the developmentally challenged.
Many of these programs, such as the Adirondack Arc and Mountain Lake Services, have already endured painful cuts in the last several budget cycles.
If this latest round of cuts is approved, it could have a devastating impact.
The governor's press office said in a statement that for the last 20 years, the federal government has been paying New York state far more than what it costs to provide services for the developmentally disabled. A Cuomo spokesperson says the Governor's proposal to cut $240 million would solve that discrepancy.
Lawmakers in both the Assembly and the Senate are calling on Cuomo to either partially or completely restore the funding. Assemblywoman Janet Duprey is a Republican from Clinton County.
"This is an outrageous hit at these agencies who do such incredible work and help so many disabled people," she said. "It's too big a hit totally unanticipated, all at one time."
But restoring the proposed cuts requires lawmakers to cut somewhere else.
The Adirondack Arc is headquartered in Tupper Lake. It employs about 380 people and provides services to more than 300 people with development disabilities in Franklin and Hamilton counties and parts of Essex, St. Lawrence and Clinton counties.
The agency supports people of all ages with services like preschool education, physical therapy, and housing. It runs group homes across the North Country, which must be staffed around the clock.
Sadie Spada is CEO of the Adirondack Arc. She said Cuomo's cuts would result in an $840,000 loss for her organization. Two years ago, Adirondack Arc sustained a $750,000 cut.
"This 6 percent on top of that loss, now you're starting to get into – we're going to have to close programs and cut services," Spada said. "The cuts we took before, we were able to go bare-bones administration, get rid of fringe benefits. Now we're cutting into the bone."
Spada said the cuts could result in job losses, although she hopes to avoid that. In the last round of cuts, the Adirondack Arc had to lay off six people, which Spada said was significant.
"None of those positions were restored," she said. "And those were the only positions that we could cut that doesn't cut direct support."
Spada said if the Adirondack Arc is forced to cut direct support staff, it could lead to health and safety issues at residential facilities.
"It also means that people with behavioral challenges, there is not adequate staffing in the house to protect everybody and calm somebody down when they're having a behavioral issue," she said.
Martin Nephew is executive director of Mountain Lake Services. It's a Port Henry-based agency that also offers a wide range of services to people with developmental disabilities. Speaking at last week's Essex County Board of Supervisors meeting, he said his agency volunteers with local organizations like churches, nursing homes, Meals on Wheels and local fire departments.
"The contributions that people with disabilities make in their communities are substantial," he said. "These contributions are heavily influenced by the supports and services provided by Mountain Lake Services."
Mountain Lake Services is one of Essex County's largest employers. The organization has offices in virtually every corner of the county, including Minerva, Lake Placid, Keeseville, Ticonderoga, Schroon Lake and Jay.
Nephew says Cuomo's proposed cuts would result in a $2.3 million loss for Mountain Lake Services.
"This would directly impact the services that are provided to people with disabilities and the 75,000 direct support workers employed throughout the state," Nephew said.
State Senator Betty Little said in some cases, these agencies provide more cost-effective services than what the state offers.
"They actually operate their homes at a lower cost than state homes do," she said.
Adirondack Arc employees make half as much as most state workers in similar positions, according to Sadie Spada.
"State employees doing direct care, their starting salary is more than our frontline managers make," she said.
A starting wage for an Adirondack Arc employee is about $10.50 per hour.
"We're competing with McDonald's," she said. "But our employees are required by regulations to be certified to pass medications. They have to be CPR certified. They have to go through support training. There's so much training and responsibilities that they have, it's like, why would they come to work for us if they can go to McDonald's and make the same amount of money and not be responsible for peoples' lives?"
Spada said she and other officials plan to aggressively lobby lawmakers to restore the proposed cuts. She believes Cuomo is willing to restore the funding if the Legislature can come up with the money.
A Cuomo spokesman said the governor is sensitive to the potential effects of his cuts.
Reporter Chris Morris' reporting is courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. For more of his work, go to AdirondackDailyEnterprise.com.