NYS Disability Services Face Budget Cuts Amid Pandemic | WAMC

NYS Disability Services Face Budget Cuts Amid Pandemic

Jul 1, 2020

New York’s fiscal crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic has led to temporary funding reductions for some cities and postponed planned pay raises for state workers. It has also led to reductions to some smaller programs, including an organization that has helped New Yorkers with intellectual disabilities during the pandemic. The program is slated for significant cuts this month. 

The 7 Care Coordination Organizations holistically manage the needs of over 105,000 New Yorkers who have intellectual and developmental disabilities including autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and chronic seizure disorders.

Nick Cappoletti is the CEO of LIFEPlan NY, which administers the centers, and says in the height of the pandemic, the care coordinators personally contacted every one of their clients and helped them navigate the shutdown and infection risks.

“Some people, they didn’t even have a phone (with which)  to contact them,” said Cappoletti, who said staff provided loaner cell phones to some clients so that they could keep in touch with them.

Created just two years ago, the centers coordinate services including therapies, behavioral health specialists, job placement, and recreational opportunities for their clients. But they also manage medical and dental care, housing, access to food, and legal services because many of their clients become homeless. Cappoletti says that became even more important during all of the disruption this spring.

“Are they housing insecure, food insecure? Do they have a potential risk with the loss of a caregiver?” said Cappoletti who said the centers put those in need in touch with food pantries and medical providers.   

“That work continues to be ongoing,” said Cappoletti, “to keep this population well and safe.”

The centers are facing $75 million in cuts, representing 16% of their budgets. Cappoletti says they expect to have to lay off hundreds of staff members, including registered nurses and licensed social workers. The care centers would also have less time and money to help clients as the pandemic continues. The death rate from COVID-19 is higher for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Cappoletti says he knows the state is very short of funds due to the revenue drop from the effects of the pandemic. He also says Governor Andrew Cuomo has been very supportive of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And he says he knows that ultimately the federal government will need to pass another relief package to help state and local governments out. But he says cutting the program now will cost more money in the long run because the centers help prevent an “unintended crisis,” like a child with autism having a behavioral issue that leads to a visit to the hospital or someone with a chronic illness that has not received the proper attention.  

“And we can make sure that they get to a health care provider,” he said. “And ultimately that could save money as opposed to expensive emergency room visits and hospital admissions.”

He says it’s also possible to switch some older clients to the federal Medicare program to relieve some of the costs for the state.

The state Office For People With Developmental Disabilities, in a statement, said the cuts won’t have any effect on services and that the agency is dedicated to providing services for the state’s most vulnerable residences.  

“There are no anticipated changes to the services provided as a result of this targeted approach, which implements savings goals included in the enacted budge,” said Jennifer O’Sullivan, Director of Communications for OPWDD. “Providing support to New York’s most vulnerable residents is critical to ensuring all New Yorkers have the opportunity to live a full life.”