By Ken Borsuk
GREENWICH — Employees and families served by Abilis will be focused on Hartford Tuesday as the state Legislature votes to close a state budget gap with major ramifications for social service agencies.
The Greenwich based non-profit, which helps people with developmental disabilities, is facing a potential immediate cut that could have an impact on spending over the next three months.
Dennis Perry, Abilis’ president and CEO, said they were informed only a week ago about Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plan to address a $220 million revenue shortfall for the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year. Cuts include $17 million to the state Department of Developmental Services’ budget.
“I don’t use the words cataclysmic or draconian lightly,” Perry said. “These would be very significant changes and it would cause an end to several programs that are now in place.”
No specifics have been shared for how the cut would be applied to the agencies supported by DDS, but Perry said his projections show a reduction in funding for Abilis of up to $250,000 for the next three months.
Abilis serves some 700 people during the course of a year, according to Perry, providing services from early childhood to residential to senior. Abilis runs therapy and employment programs with the goal of enabling clients to live independently.
Therapeutic programs will not be cut, Perry said, because state funding for them comes from the Department of Social Services, not DDS. But other programs would suffer.
“We deal with people who have developmental disabilities,” Perry said. “Some of them have behavioral problems and some of those people need one-on-one care where others can be organized and brought into the community as part of a group. The ability to sustain services for people who need one-on-one care is in jeopardy because that costs more money. We also run our employment program with job coaches, people who are in the field with those we serve helping them develop competitive employment skills. If I can’t afford the job coach, I can’t get these people jobs.”
Perry said the worst possible outcome would be reducing residential services.
“If they cut our residential budgets, in theory that could put people out on the street,” he said. “Now you have to know we would do everything possible to prevent that but this is the magnitude of the proposals that the governor came forward with.”
Malloy has requested that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle work on their own plan for closing the budget gap. Lawmakers are to vote Tuesday on a menu of proposals, which could mitigate the hit to Abilis and other agencies.
“This money shouldn’t be coming from the people who need the services the most,” said state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich.
Perry met with Greenwich state Reps. Fred Camillo and Michael Bocchino, both Republicans, last week, and said he is hopeful drastic measures can be avoided if a broader group is made to share in the budget burden.
“We would still feel any cut, but it would have less of an impact because the cut would be more equitable around the state,” Perry said, adding Abilis “may have dodged a three-month bullet.”
State Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, said the town delegation is unified in its support of Abilis and other social services agencies.
“Our delegation has worked diligently to preserve the safety net services for our most vulnerable Connecticut residents, and we shall continue our efforts, against all odds,” Floren said.
If it does dodge a bullet for this fiscal year, Perry said the agency still is very much aware of what could be coming given next fiscal year’s $900 million shortfall.
“You can plan for just about anything if you’re given a little time,” he said.
Abilis has been working to find other funding sources, he said. That has meant a reconfiguration of Abilis’ services and how people pay for them.
“Don’t assume we’re trying to do this through fundraising only,” Perry said. “We’re not looking for people to just fundraise our way to the solution. We’re looking to offer services to families that they need to support the development of developmentally disabled individuals. We’re offering private therapy programs. We’re offering private recreational programs and private employment and residential programs, all of which come at a competitive cost and are part of our goal to satisfy the needs of families without necessarily relying on the state to make that happen.”
Perry said Abilis recognizes the cuts are part of a new reality given the challenges the state faces.
“The problem is the pace of change that we’re trying to put in place is being outpaced by the governor’s need to cut costs,” Perry said. “We knew we had to lessen our dependence on the state. That’s why I assumed my role and that’s why this organization is not walking away from its support of the state but wants to recognize there’s a limit in what the state can do.”