Thousands on disabilities services face cuts under Scott's budget

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More than 3,000 Vermonters with developmental disabilities would see cuts to the services they receive from the state under Gov. Phil Scott's proposed budget, while another program for the severely disabled faces elimination.

Under the budget proposal, a waiver program that gives developmentally disabled Vermonters residential support, employment assistance and aid to family caregivers would lose a total of $4.3 million in state and federal funding, according to the Agency of Human Services.

A total of 3,070 Vermonters who receive assistance through the Developmental Services Waiver Program will see cuts to spending on services, by an average of 2 percent, according to an Agency of Human Services analysis of the proposed fiscal 2019 budget. Programs to be reduced or eliminated include employment supports, community supports, and respite and residential supports.

Monica Caserta Hutt, commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, said the proposed budget allocates about $10 million in additional spending on the waiver program, but that money would be for individuals who are new to the program or whose needs are increasing.

"The administration, their commitment to individuals, I think really is evidenced in this pretty significant increase," she said.

The governor has repeatedly said he would make protecting services for vulnerable Vermonters a priority.

Overall, the governor's proposed budget calls for a $16.8 million reduction in human services spending. The cuts to the waiver program would save $2 million in state funding. Hutt said tough decisions had to be made to keep the waiver program, which is run by regional nonprofit groups, financially sustainable.

"When I am looking at the budget overall I'm needing to balance that need for 10 million new dollars with the system as it exists right now, and so this really is a calculation and trying to get to budget growth that's sustainable overall," Hutt said.

Advocates railed against the proposed cuts at a public hearing last month.

Steve Raugh, the board president of Upper Valley Services and the father of a 45-year-old man with developmental disabilities, said the cuts underscored a worrying trend.

"If we keep this death-by-a-thousand-cuts financial strategy we are going to unwind this terrific system we have created here and I have no idea what will happen to my son and the hundreds of others who are served," he said.

Beth Masters, of Essex Junction, said her daughter has received disabilities services from the state for 21 years.

"Imagine my surprise this year when we received a letter saying that her nursing services were going to be terminated and then to hear that there's going to be a budget cut in the developmental services which she also receives," Masters said. "My husband and I don't feel entitled to your help, but we sure need it."

Another service that provides approximately 42 severely disabled Vermonters with in-home attendant care would be eliminated under the proposed budget.

The Attendant Services Program, which costs $1.4 million annually, has been frozen since fiscal year 2015 and is "slowly seeing participants decrease over time," according to the AHS analysis.

The program serves clients with conditions including quadriplegia, paraplegia, multiple sclerosis, severe arthritis, muscular dystrophy.

Hutt said the cut was necessary because of budgetary pressures arising from increased caseloads across her department. She said the state will be helping the 42 people who rely on the program find replacement services.

"We've sent letters to folks letting them know what's happening and also letting them know that there's no final decision made yet because this is something that the legislature will need to think through and decide ultimately," she said.

Lawmakers will decide this week whether to accept the administration's proposed cuts or restore the money to the fiscal year 2019 budget.

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