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Hartford — Two days after the Malloy administration announced that state revenue projections would be less than anticipated, parents and grandparents of those with disabilities held a press conference with lawmakers to advocate for expanding services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities
The state cut $30 million in DDS funding in recent years, pushing 3,532 people with disabilities onto waiting lists for services, advocates said.
"We have been left out of each and every budget," said Velma Williams-Estes a parent of a 46-year-old woman who has Down syndrome. "Do not do it again."
Advocates spoke in support of House Bill 5534, which would cost about $149 million over three years and would help provide community-based residential services, respite care, emergency care, day program services, vocational services and in-home support services.
In February, the governor proposed providing the DDS with $1.099 billion. In March, the Appropriations Committee proposed an additional $4.7 million. Whether this new money will remain in next year's budget remains to be seen.
"We are still negotiating," said Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "I wish I could say anything is off the table. Nothing is off the table. We are looking at everything. We have to have a balanced budget but we have to take care of these families. It is the usual balancing act."
Lois Nitch, the mother of a man who has been in a group home program and a day program for 28 years, said these programs make a difference.
"Your dollars work when they are put to good use," Nitch said. "... He is healthier, happier, he has roommates. He has a life. I have a life."
Services for people with disabilities shouldn't be a miracle, she said.
The state plans for children's education and parents of "regular kids" plan for weddings, college and moving across the country, Nitch said. But when it comes to people with disabilities, there is a lack of funding and planning when people reach age 21.
"I think people look at the disabled community now because everybody is out in the community ... Look, they are in the grocery store, and look, they are over here, and everything is hunky-dory," Nitch said. "And they don't see what is going on behind closed doors. The parents who are taking care of them or a sibling that might be taking care of them… and the struggles they have every day just to get through the day."
Williams-Estes said her 46-year-old daughter would continue to live at home for the time being but that she wanted a plan for her daughter to live in a community-based residential home once they decided it was time for her to move out.
"I am very, very scared about what will happen to my daughter," Williams-Estes said. "How long do we have to wait? I have been doing this for the last 40 years."
Lawmakers said that supporting those with disabilities was a "partisan-free" issue.
"I believe we are an exceptional nation and we should be, we should be a super power in defense and education and technology and architecture and art," said John Hampton, D-West Simsbury. "But we do not live up to that high level of exceptionalness if we are not caring for our most vulnerable citizens who deserve lives of fulfillment and promises and equal opportunity."