State budget crisis having impact on disabled residents

HARTFORD --  Non-profit day programs for the disabled were forced to close for the day Wednesday because of a furlough enforced by the state. This will be one of six furlough days spaced throughout the year.

Program providers, caregivers, parents and people with disabilities gathered on the steps of the capitol Wednesday morning to demand a fair budget from lawmakers.

300 people attended day programs at Harc in Hartford.

Harc CEO Andrea Barton Reaves said 60 of those participants live in Harc's group home. Barton Reaves said she spent an extra $20,000 on additional group home staffing for Wednesday, since no one could leave for day programs.

"It's just moving the burden onto the group home for people to just sit there and not doing anything all day," said Barton Reaves. "It doesn't make any sense."

The additional 240 participants live at home with family members, many of whom rely on these day programs for their loved ones.

"Mothers have been calling and crying, saying I don't know what to do," said Barton Reaves. "It's hard to send a note home saying guess what, we're closed for six days and you have to figure out what to do."

Barry Simon, president of Oak Hill in Hartford, said it is more expensive to staff their group home than it is to staff their day programs. Simon said they were forced to spend an additional $42,500 today for additional group home staffing, while the state saved roughly $24,000. Most of Oak Hill's funding comes from the state.

"For us, it's a double impact," said Simon. "We're not getting paid and we're adding cost."

Simon says he, too, has been getting panicked phone calls from parents, and admits he has never seen a financial situation as dire as the one they are presently facing.

"In almost 30 years of providing services, I have never seen it this bad."

Margaret Osiecki, a mom of two sons with Down Syndrome in Avon, had both her sons in day programs. Without the programs, she is afraid her children will regress. She has a plea for lawmakers.

"Please, put yourself into our shoes and think if you had a child, grandchild, with a disability," said Osiecki. "Staying at home day after day with nothing to do, it's just impossible."