AP NEWS

CT independent living centers seek funding in Lamont budget

February 15, 2019

HARTFORD — Days before Gov. Ned Lamont’s first budget is unveiled, a small group of advocates who help individuals with disabilities live independently met with his No. 2.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz met with employees and clients of one of the state’s five independent living centers Friday.

The centers help individuals navigate the complex service system. The centers help people with housing, education, employment and medical needs.

Gregory Johnson told Bysiewicz how the center helped find him housing after he left a nursing home and was unable to climb three flights of steps to his apartment.

Not only did they help find him housing, but they taught him how to use the paratransit bus service to help him run his errands.

“They give you information that makes the transition much easier,” Johnson said.

Jacqueline Pinney, executive director of Independence Unlimited, said they save the Money Follows the Person program about $10 million a year by giving their clients the support they need to maintain their independence.

Pinney said she’s personally helped 300 to 400 clients transition out of nursing homes.

Jade Vail, an advocate and options counselor at Independence Unlimited, said she was homeless and unemployed in 2008 when she started coming to the center.

She said they helped find her an apartment and as her advocacy skills developed they eventually hired her.

The centers also operate on a shoestring.

The federal government gives each center about $180,000 a year and the state contributes about $309,000 to the five centers.

That’s in a state where about 20 percent of the population is considered disabled.

“We really believe the centers are the most cost-effective thing the state has,” said Charles Conway, executive director of Access Independence.

“It’s easy to cut funds,” Conway said. “But sometimes I think it’s important to think about where we cut and how we cut.”

The state’s contribution to the five centers had been around $529,000 a year until it was cut in 2015 to its current level of about $309,000.

Bysiewicz said the budget Lamont will present next week will “hold the line on spending” and “is not raising taxes.”

She said they think they’ve found some creative ways to close the $1.7 billion deficit in the first year and $2.3 billion deficit in the second year of the state budget.

She said if they are able to grow the economy 3 percent per year, then Connecticut will have the revenue it needs to address the unfunded pension liabilities, which are arguably a bigger problem for the state than the more immediate budget deficits.

She declined to indicate how much spending the two-year budget would cut, but based on the drips and drops of information that have been released it’s going to have to cut spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. And the way the budget is structured there are only a few places that can be cut. Social services, along with higher education, are two areas of the budget that are on the top of the chopping block.

“He’s an unknown entity,” Conway said referring to Lamont.

Lamont, who has never held statewide office, understandably, isn’t looking forward to announcing where he’s going to cut spending in advance of his budget address.

Lamont has already said he doesn’t plan on increasing the income tax and he wants to broaden the sales tax to include things like digital downloads. It’s unknown how much revenue those proposals will raise or at what rate he would set the sales tax for certain items. He also wants to spend about $500 million less on borrowing annually.

However, restoring the $200 property tax credit to middle class homeowners is going to cost an additional $55 million and getting rid of the business entity tax will require him to find about $45 million.

So while the Lamont administration may have revealed some of its proposals, it’s unclear how exactly Lamont’s budget will be balanced.