July 26, 2017 | Greenwich Time

GREENWICH — Staff and supporters of a Greenwich-based social service agency that helps people with developmental disabilities spent the first of six state-mandated furlough days rallying against state budget cuts. Some 200 people connected with Abilis swarmed Town Hall Wednesday morning to criticize a budget impasse that has temporarily cut 10 percent of the nonprofit’s operating expenses for its day and residential programs until a state spending plan is reached. The loss of what agency officials said was between $400,000 and $500,000 has forced Abilis — and many other of the state’s social service agencies — to close down for six days to stay within their spending limits.

Photo Credits: Chris Palermo / For Hearst Connecticut Media

“We are here today to advocate for our people and our services,” Abilis President and CEO Dennis Perry said before the rally. “This is a call to action. We want people to become more aware and sympathetic to what it is we are trying to accomplish.”

Without a budget in place by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, Gov. Dannel Malloy limited state funding to “essential” services, setting up furlough — unpaid leave — days for other services, including many social service agencies. Nearly 150 of Abilis’s 240 employees, like other social service agency workers, were required Wednesday to stay home. Members and supporters of the non-profit created the rally to urge state residents to call or write their legislators to get a budget in place. Among those in attendance were staff of Abilis, clients of the agency and their families, and local and state politicians.

“Unfortunately you have been ensnared in a protracted budget battle for which you should not be the victims,” Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei told the crowd. “Our hope is that today people will see the individuals who are being impacted by the inaction and will recognize the punitive steps that were taken do not provide you the services you need.”

Selectman Drew Marzullo said the state had a moral obligation to provide the resources needed by organizations like Abilis. “This request is not a want, it is a need and the most vulnerable will be impacted if cuts to the budget are not restored,” Marzullo said. The outside of Town Hall on Field Point Road Wednesday was thick with people holding signs in support of Abilis; drivers passing the rally honked their horns as they went by. Among the speakers was Westport resident Kathleen Fong, who said the loss of Abilis’s day program has had an impact on her son, a recent Staples High School graduate.

“All state funding has been cut for day programs for individuals like Austin who are new high school grads,” Fong said. “Suddenly these young people have nowhere to go and nothing to do. These budget cuts will not just cut services but harm people like Austin. He will lose skills and regress. It is devastating to see him sit around with nothing to do. ”Once a budget is in place, Perry said, much of the money now being withheld should be restored.

Members of Greenwich’s legislative delegation to Hartford, state Sen. Scott Frantz (R-36th) and state Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th), Michael Bocchino (R-150th) and Fred Camillo (R-151st), were at the rally, pledging their support for Abilis and insisting they have an answer to the crisis.

“On the Republican side, we’ve been dead serious about a very well vetted budget we created well over three months ago,” Frantz said. “It’s not a pretty budget but it’s the only one that would be acceptable to the majority of people in the state and is balanced, as is constitutionally required.” The legislature is expected to meet July 31 to resume budget debates.

“The longer this goes on, the deeper these cuts are going to be,” Floren said. “I think that will get people committed to a deal. I think they’re committed to it now but it’s just that there are so many special interests out there.” The Republican budget is not being considered viable by Malloy.

“Governor Malloy has said he would veto the House Republican budget proposal in its current form, as it contains many provisions that would potentially expose the state to legal liability, does practically nothing to help our financially distressed municipalities, hurts transportation investment, and does not fully explain the policy choices underlying the appropriation adjustments,” Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said Wednesday. State Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz said he understood people are hurting without a resolution.

“The stress and impact on our non-profits, municipalities and business community is real and grows over time, which is precisely why we all must remain focused and committed to staying at the negotiating table until a final agreement is reached that will pass the legislature and the governor will sign,” Aresimowicz said. Abilis urged those at the rally to call and email Aresimowicz, Senate Majority Leader Matt Ritter and Chair of Appropriations Toni Walker and to visit to find contact information for state representatives and senators.