Cuts for the disabled may be restored

Lawmakers hope to avert a potentially devastating cut to agencies that provide services for people with developmental disabilities.

Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said in a press release Monday that both the Assembly and the Senate have passed measures to restore a 6 percent cut to private and nonprofit agencies that provide services to disabled people. The cut was originally proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Leaders from both chambers are expected to negotiate with Cuomo to restore the cuts, which will require the Legislature to make them elsewhere.

Cuomo’s proposal would slash $120 million from the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. That, in turn, would result in another $120 million loss in federal matching funds, according to Stec.

“In our communities, we always believe in lending a hand to those who need it most, and this proposed budget cut would have taken hundreds of millions away from people who rely on this assistance,” Stec said in the release. “Non-profit, private providers of services to the developmentally disabled do a fantastic job helping our most vulnerable members of society on enough of a shoestring budget as it is and the least we can do is ensure they have the funding they need to continue caring for these vulnerable members of our society in the dignified manner they deserve.”

Cuomo is looking to cut OPWDD funding because of an ongoing dispute with the federal government, according to Richard Azzopardi, one of the governor’s press officers.

“The federal government has held that for more than 20 years, New York has been reimbursed in excess of what it costs to provide OPWDD services,” Azzopardi wrote in an email.

Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, told the Enterprise that the federal government has changed its future reimbursement rate for OPWDD services, and agreed to a settlement with the state. She wasn’t sure about the specifics of the agreement, but Azzopardi explained that in order to resolve the issue, “The state is reconciling the rate to the level that the federal government believes is appropriate.

“While we’re sensitive to the possible effects of less federal funding for these services, these actions are necessary so we can move forward and put this dispute in the past,” he said. “If lawmakers have realistic ideas on how to accomplish this goal, they will be reviewed.”

Little said members from both chambers will start conference committee meetings this week. During those sessions, leaders will try to prepare a compromise budget.

Asked where the Legislature will look to make up for the restoration of $120 million, Little said lawmakers will look at new hires at state agencies.

“There were a number of additional staff people being added to different agencies,” she said. “We’ve tried to work at that. That’s what these conference committees will decide: what they can restore and where the money can come from.

“The Assembly and the Senate also agreed that there’s $200 million more available than what the governor thought there was.”

Leaders of North Country agencies that provide services for the developmentally disabled are keeping their fingers crossed that lawmakers will strike a deal with Cuomo.

Sadie Spada, CEO of the Adirondack Arc, was in Albany Tuesday and met with Stec, Little and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey. She said she’s cautiously optimistic the cuts will be restored.

“What they are hearing from the governor is that the governor is holding tight to his budget,” Spada said.

Martin Nephew, executive director of Mountain Lake Services, stressed that agencies like his “aren’t out of the woods yet.

“A lot of families and providers have met with the Assembly and senators in the last two weeks to voice their concerns, and I believe we’ve been heard,” he said.

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or