ANNAPOLIS – A week before the Maryland Board of Public Works meets to consider budget cuts for state agencies, advocates for people with developmental disabilities said they cannot afford to absorb any decrease in funding.
The Developmental Disabilities Coalition, which includes statewide advocacy organizations, held a news conference in Dundalk Wednesday to alert the public about the effects budget cuts would have on the Developmental Disabilities Administration.
The Coalition says additional cuts would be devastating to service providers and those who receive services.
“I just got approved for in-home services,” said Ken Capone, the public policy coordinator for People on the Go, an advocacy group. “I live with my mother. She’s in her 70s and is still my primary caregiver. I don’t want to lose the services that I just received because of the cuts. It’s scary what would happen if I did lose my services.”
Capone, who has cerebral palsy, said he used to be on a waiting list for services. More than 18,000 people are still on it, he said.
One of the people currently on the waiting list is the son of Kensington resident Carol Fried, 22-year-old David Mitz, who has a rare genetic disorder.
Fried is worried her son will not have the level of care and service he currently receives from a day program staff member who might not be able to afford to keep her job because of low pay.
“If she had to quit, he has to learn how to trust another person, and it’s very difficult for him to adjust to somebody new,” Fried said. “I know there are lots of financial troubles, but I know there are priorities the governor set, and it doesn’t make sense that people with developmental disabilities aren’t top priority.”
Advocates worry that the Board of Public Works will eliminate the 1.2 percent cost of living adjustment for employees like those at The Arc of Baltimore, which provides community-based services for people with developmental disabilities. The cost of living increase was approved by the legislature this year.
“Most of our staff make between $17,000 and $25,000 a year,” said Sylvester Bieler, director of day services at The Arc of Baltimore. “With the cost of living and the cost of groceries, it makes a big difference.”
The Maryland Board of Public Works, which will meet Wednesday in Annapolis, is comprised of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot. The board will consider hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed budget cuts in anticipation of a projected deficit in the state budget of $1 billion next fiscal year.
Warren Hansen, a spokesman for Franchot’s office, said it was premature to comment about next week’s meeting.
“The Comptroller has not been briefed on the proposed cuts,” Hansen said.
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers, who oversees the Developmental Disabilities Administration, said an agency as large as his is bound to face tough cuts in the current economic climate.
“We’re beyond the point when painless cuts can be made,” Colmers said.
After the press conference Wednesday, people with disabilities, family members, and other advocates mailed, faxed and emailed hundreds of letters to Board of Public Works members asking them not to cut the Developmental Disabilities Administration’s budget.
“We have received some letters,” said Howard Freelander, deputy treasurer for external affairs with Kopp’s office. “Clearly next week’s meeting will be a difficult one.”