February 4, 2015 - by Daniela Altimari - Hartford Courant
Human service providers from across Connecticut are bracing for budget cuts that they say could shred the safety net and harm some of the state's neediest citizens.
"In these challenging times, we all know the budget is a huge issue for us," said state Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, co-chairwoman of the legislature's human services committee. "But we can't do it on the backs of the people who are less fortunate."
Abercrombie's comments came during a press conference at the legislative office building Wednesday to draw attention to the proposed cuts, which advocates fear could top $25 million. The press conference was organized by the Connecticut Community Providers Association, which represents 130 private, non-profit agencies that serve thousands of clients with mental health disorders, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse issues and a host of other health needs.
The expected reduction for the 2016 fiscal year would come on the heels of millions of dollars in emergency recissions announced last month, including a $2 million cut to day programs.
Additional reductions would "destabilize the system and close some programs,'' predicted Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources, which provides behavioral health treatment to more than 18,000 children and adults in Connecticut.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is scheduled to release his budget on Feb. 18; until then, administration officials declined to comment.
Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs in the state Office of Policy and Management said the advocates are "making assumptions, as is natural for advocates to do when they prepare for release of a budget."
OPM Secretary Ben Barnes has said that the governor's budget will include cuts to close a projected deficit as well as addressing current-year shortfalls. "But we haven't commented publicly on specific programs,'' Casa said.
But the providers are bracing for bad news. "The current cuts and the threats of more cuts are not insignificant,'' said Pat Bourne, executive director of SARAH Inc., a Guilford-based provider that runs day-programs and supported employment opportunities to children and adults in the New Haven region.
"The cuts are not inconsequential, the cuts are not just the stroke of a pen or the swipe of an eraser," Bourne said. "The cuts are real, the cuts are deep and the cuts will hurt."
Some of the cuts were included in the current state budget, but officials were able to stave them off with temporary fixes and one-time adjustments. The providers said they fear that won't happen again.
Barbara DeMauro, the CEO of Bridges, a Milford-based behavioral health provider, sought to put a humn face on the impact of the potential cuts. "What will happen to the 1,200 adults in Bridges system alone who require medication in order to work, parent and have productive lives?'' DeMauro said. "And what will happen to those adolescents and adults coming out of juvenile detention and prison who will sorely need our help in turning their lives around? How can we justify the continued underfunding of critical services to those in need?"
Among those speaking at the press conference was Thurman Arline, a recovering addict who credits the counseling he received with helping him regain control of his life. "I'm one of those stories,'' Arline said. "I'm an addict and I'm standing before you today because of the mental health issues I had have been taken care of." Arline's message to lawmakers: "I'm standing before you today because I have my self-esteem and my sanity back....without the funding...if you had seen me four or five years ago, you wouldn't see the same person."