Chants of "No more cuts" and "We count too" echoed throughout Perry Duryea State Office Building parking lot in Hauppauge on Friday as more than 1,000 people – including a group from Riverhead's East End Disabilities Associates – stood outside protesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed funding cuts to services for the developmentally disabled.
"I don't understand what the governor is thinking by cutting these people, of all people," said Margaret Raustiala, mother of an autistic son and member of the Alliance of Long Island Agencies. "Restore the money, restore the cut, find some other place to cut ... all I know is this cannot happen. It's really, really sad."
The proposed 6 percent cuts to the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities would result in a reduction of more than $120 million that would fund developmentally disabled services – including EEDA. Coming on the heels of cuts in recent years, leaders in the field have called the proposal unsustainable without taking a step backward.
EEDA's CFO and 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.
"I would hope the governor is hearing what New Yorkers with disabilities, and their families, have to say," said Lisa Fertal, EEDA's other co-founder, who has two sons of her own with autism.
According to a North Country Radio Report, the proposed cuts are the result of federal medical coverage overpayments to the state for the past 20 years. The state budget for next year must be finalized before April 1.
Seth Stein, executive director of the Alliance of Long Island Agencies, a group that assists 32 not-for-profit agencies on Long Island and roughly 10,000 people on the Island with disabilities, said that there have been state Senators and Assembly members who have been outspoken in having all funding restored from the proposed 6-percent cuts.
"I understand that we have individuals in the legislature that are supporting full restoration, the negotiations are going on today, we expect the budget to be resolved today, tomorrow, by the weekend at the latest," he said. "We're optimistic that when the dust settles this cut will be gone."
Stein said there are four rallies taking place Friday, including Hauppauge’s, across New York demanding these proposed cuts be reversed.
“All of us that are disabled, we need the programs. We live in a normal society just like the staff does, just like everyone else,” said Ivy Ferdinand, a Quality Assurance worker at AHRC Nassau who also receives its services. “Just think about it Mr. Cuomo, what if it was you, and you had a son or a daughter or an aunt or an uncle or a cousin that was disabled and you found out that they were taking 6 percent away from them?”
“We do not need budget cuts at all because everybody around the whole state is going to be effected by this,” added Cathy Loquercio, president of the Board of Directors of People with Developmental Disabilities Speaking Up for Ourselves. “They're going to lose a lot of services, they're going to lose staff, the programs and a lot of Medicaid stuff.”
Additional reporting provided by Associate Regional Editor Joseph Pinciaro.