ALBANY — Nonprofit associations that support New Yorkers with developmental disabilities say their services face deep cuts along with the potential of thousands of layoffs as a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to cut state support from the agencies to help deal with the state's financial crisis.
"We cannot afford to have these kinds of cuts because people's lives are at stake," said Tom McAlvanah, president of New York Disability Advocates, a statewide coalition of service provider organizations.
Programs serving the developmentally disabled are not being specifically targeted for cuts. Instead, they are among a wide spectrum of government-supported services that could face the sharp side of the spending cleaver as the Cuomo administration deals with the extraordinary state and national economic downturn driven by the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor and the state's congressional delegation have been pushing for a second federal stimulus package that would provide billions of dollars in relief to New York and other states, as well as local governments. But it remains uncertain whether such legislation will be approved in Washington.
Cuomo has been given broad powers to manage the state's finances during the pandemic, and he does not need legislative approval to withhold 20% of the state aid that the state government had initially intended to give to the nonprofits, public schools, hospitals and other entities.
Some lawmakers, however, argue it is patently unfair to impose such a deep cut across the board, without regard to the nature of the services that would be affected.
Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Westchester, noted the impact would be felt in the wallets of people with developmental disabilities who are in "self-direction," meaning they are not in housing provided by the state, can receive up to $6,000 annually in state funds to cover a variety of expenses not covered by Medicaid, such as utility bills.
"It's unconscionable to take money away from our most vulnerable and, in many cases our poorest citizens, who can't help themselves and who need the money to survive," Abinanti told CNHI. "They are living at poverty level already."
The Cuomo administration says the financial problems have forced it to make painful decisions.
"We certainly understand that these are difficult times for everyone, but the reality is New York state is contending with a more than 15% drop in revenue — amounting to $62 billion over four years — and in the absence of federal funding we have had no choice but to hold back a portion of payments," said Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the state Division of the Budget.
He noted the state also supports police, fire departments, schools and hospitals. "Anywhere we don't reduce spending will simply mean deeper cuts in another," Klopott added.
The provider agencies have had to deal with lean state support well before the onset of the pandemic, said McAlvanah.
"We have had flat budgets for over 10 years now," he recalled.
During the pandemic, the financial stress was exacerbated, he added. More than 4,000 people with developmental disabilities became infected with the virus, resulting in more than 340 deaths, he said. Direct-care workers, in close contact with those individuals, were also impacted, with more than 4,000 getting sick from the contagion, McAlvanah said.
By the end of May, payroll costs had soared by an additional $73 million, he added, with the agencies having to spend millions more to acquire personal protection equipment.
McAlvanah and J.R. Drexelius, government relations counsel for the Developmental Disability Alliance of Western New York, said the financial calamity being faced by the programs, coupled with the expected withholding of 20% of state support, could force some programs to close.
"If they don't fix this, people are going to get put out in the street," Drexelius said, noting the state funding supports a rental subsidy.
The cuts are expected to hit the provider agencies in October. A recent survey by New York Disability Advocates found that more than 200 of the nonprofit providers are already strapped for cash.
Abinanti said he is asking Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-the Bronx, to authorize a legislative hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on people with developmental disabilities. The fiscal concerns would be examined at the forum, he said.
Another advocate for the services, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Schenectady, said direct care staffers were able to keep thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities safe during the pandemic.
"These voluntary not-for-profit service providers are in desperate need for cash flow during this unprecedented time,” Santabarbara said. “I urge the Governor to fully restore state funding for these agencies that serve and protect this vulnerable population.”
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org