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A Fight Worth Fighting For, by Rhonda Frederick

Mar 04, 2013

It’s no secret that state governments throughout the United States are experiencing significant budget challenges and deficits. This has been all the more complicated with the sequestration debacle in Washington. 

While the budget cuts at the national level are across the board and will impact almost every federal government program, in New York the proposed cuts to balance its budget is being placed squarely on the backs of our most vulnerable population – people with developmental disabilities.

In one word this is unconscionable. The proposed cuts put forth by Governor Cuomo in his 2013-2014 budget are beyond comprehension for those of us who provide desperately needed programs and services for people with developmental disabilities. We implore the New York State Senate and Assembly to restore these devastating cuts when they unveil their respective budget proposals on or around March 11th.

People with developmental disabilities for far too long have borne the brunt of budget cuts at the state level. Programs and services have been cut $350 million in the just the last four years. With the Governor’s proposed cuts this figure would total $590 million. No other segment of our population has experienced anything close to these types of draconian cuts.

At the same time, we have been promised relief from burdensome and expensive mandates that waste taxpayer money and that mitigate our ability to best serve the developmentally disabled. Our respective staffs spend more and more time and our agencies more and more money to meet bureaucratic rules that have very little impact on the care we provide. These false promises just make the financial cuts that we are enduring all the more painful.

Perhaps it’s because many people with developmental disabilities cannot speak or have severe physical limitations and cannot write or communicate that they are repeatedly targeted in the state budget. Make no mistake though; those of us who serve people with developmental disabilities as well as their families and caregivers are providing them a voice and we have one message – enough is enough!

That is why we are galvanizing our resources and putting forth a unified voice to fight these nonsensical budget cuts. From Buffalo to Long Island, human service agencies, families and yes, even the people with developmental disabilities are not going to allow these cuts to occur without a fight.

The Governor is fighting to increase the minimum wage, equality for women and other causes he champions to help those who are at a disadvantage. When it comes to people with developmental disabilities though, maintaining their dignity and quality of life is apparently not something he believes worth fighting for.

New York State has a moral obligation to protect and adequately provide for its most vulnerable populations. It appears with these proposed funding cuts that people with developmental disabilities for some reason are the exception. 

Every member of the New York State Senate and Assembly has people with development disabilities who live in their legislative districts. These elected representatives are our last hope in this fight to preserve the programs and services we provide every day to their most vulnerable constituents. 

Rhonda Frederick is chair of the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York and Chief Operating Officer of People Inc.