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Nonprofits to Protest Cuts to Developmentally Disabled

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed 6 percent cut could be "dangerous," says East End Disabilities Associates CEO.

Concerns over $120 million in proposed funding cuts to the developmentally disabled will have a chorus of Long Island agencies – including Riverhead's East End Disabilities Associates – traveling to the governor's satellite office in Hauppauge on Friday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a 6 percent cut to the state's Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. But on the heels of cuts in recent years, EEDA co-founder and CEO Lisa Meyer-Fertal said on Wednesday that further cuts would pierce to the bone, and Cuomo's proposal would hurt far too much.

"This is getting dangerous," said Meyer-Fertal, who along with several other executives have decided to take a 6 percent pay cut in lieu of a 6 percent cut to the industry.

EEDA's CFO and other co-founder, Jim Martinsen, told Patch last year that the organization lost 10 percent of its Medicaid funding – which is distributed through OPWDD – two years ago. Medicaid funds 98 percent of the nonprofit's budget, which cares for 600 individuals with disabilities.

Meyer-Fertal and Martinsen will be representing just one of a number of nonprofit providers to developmentally disabled individuals at Cuomo's Hauppauge office on Friday morning, starting at 11 a.m. Margaret Raustiala, coordinator for the Alliance of Long Island Agencies – a group of 35 nonprofit members – said all organizations have been invited to attend.

The proposed cuts, according to a North Country Radio Report, come as a result of federal overpayments to New York State for medical coverage over the past 20 years. Though the state faces an estimated $1.5 billion budget shortfall, and cuts to OPWDD were just one of many made by Cuomo, legislators in both houses of the New York State Legislature have supported restoring the 6 percent cut to OPWDD. A state budget for next year must be finalized before April 1.

"It's unconscionable to cut funding from individuals and families that need our help the most," state Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson said in a statement. "I remain committed to ensuring that families and individuals continue to receive funding for the services that are essential to them."

South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, previously served on the Assembly's Mental Health Committee, and currently serves on the Ways and Means. Thiele said on Thursday it remains unclear at this point in budget negotiations what the final outcome may be, though a decision on the OPWDD funding could come as soon as Monday.

Meyer-Fertal and others – many writing directly to the OPWDD's Facebook page – are reminding leaders of a past in New York State mental health services that once drew notieriety for places such as Staten Island's Willowbrook State School, called a "snake pit" at one point by Robert Kennedy due to a "lack of attention, lack of imagination, and a lack of adequate manpower."

Manpower would likely be the first thing to be cut, said Fertal – who has two children of her own in EEDA's care – should further cuts come down the line. Due to cost of living cuts over the past few years, she noted employees haven't seen a raise in the past three years as it is.

"I understand we need to save money, but we made a commitment to people with disabilities when we closed places like Willowbrook," Fertal said. "We made a commitment to take care of people in a different way."

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