Cuomo plans more cuts to state’s overburdened group homes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Following a decade of budget cuts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office is proposing yet another round of slashes to service providers that care for New Yorkers with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the 2021 budget — a move that caregivers say will devastate them and the people they care for. 

In an effort to manage the budget shortfall spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, the state is asking the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities to reduce its budget by 5 percent for the next fiscal year, the latest in a long history of cuts to services for developmentally disabled New Yorkers.

“Every year we’re fighting, social service funds are the first on the chopping block,” said Canarsie state Sen. Roxanne Persaud at a virtual rally on Dec. 8. “The people who are suffering the most are the first that we want to take funding from.”

These types of services have seen a multitude of cuts over the past decade, including a 6 percent budget cut to OPDD in 2012. In the last year alone, the agency has had to impose a 20 percent withhold on bills for state-paid services, and change the system of billing for residential facilities, resulting in losses of $500 million for care providers throughout 2020, according to the New York City Family Advocacy Information Resource.

These cuts threaten to further devastate a social services network already straining under the weight of the pandemic, with many residents and employees of group homes falling ill during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York. Pandemic life has also been particularly challenging for developmentally disabled New Yorkers who do not live in group homes, as other services like day programs and special education services face similar threats. 

Caregivers predict any further cuts will result in closed group homes and day programs, a reduction in available beds, and higher operating costs.

A spokesperson for the state’s budget office attributed the proposed cuts to a lack of federal aid, and said minor cuts were necessary to offset larger reductions elsewhere. Cuomo said on Dec. 9 that the state will be forced to lay off government employees absent significant cash from Washington.

“In the absence of federal aid, we must consider spending reductions, borrowing, and revenue actions to offset the state’s four-year, nearly $63 billion revenue loss,” said Freeman Kloppot. “Any permanent spending reductions will be made in discussion with the legislature, keeping in mind that any area we don’t reduce spending will require deeper reductions in another.”

Still, advocates fear the cuts signify a backslide towards the mid-20th century when people with developmental disabilities were treated as undesirables — most famously illustrated by the horrific conditions uncovered at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island in the 1980s.

“People are fearing that we’re going backwards, back to the days of Willowbrook,” said Long Island Assemblymember Missy Miller. “And I have to be honest, it’s certainly starting to feel that way.”

This story is part of an ongoing series about group homes on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, and the pandemic’s impact on those with developmental disabilities.