High school graduates with disabilities will have to wait for services
We are told there is a new budgetary reality in Connecticut. This is certainly true for nonprofit community providers like STAR, Inc., Lighting the Way, the leading Fairfield County provider affiliated with the state and national Arc movement. STAR provides a variety of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and routinely deals with the budget cuts and economic pressures of the new reality.
A different reality exists at Southbury Training School (STS), where the outmoded institutional status quo wastes increasingly scarce resources. In our new budgetary reality a decision to permit this waste to continue is a decision to deny services to thousands of individuals who are either unserved or underserved by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).
"The continued out-of-control spending by the state of Connecticut at Southbury Training School is outrageous, and funds should be redirected for those who wait,” says Barry Bosworth, Wilton parent of young adult waiting for residential services.
The inefficiencies at STS are staggering. By the end of last year, STS served only 230 people at a cost of $96,541,259, or over $361,000 per person per year. Since 2014, the number of STS residents decreased by 23% but total employee compensation decreased by only 8%.
In overtime alone, five direct care workers at STS earned more than $100,000, 44 earned more than $50,000 and 143 earned more than $25,000. Total compensation for the highest paid entry-level direct care worker at STS was more than $196,000 and the average compensation for all entry-level workers was over $90,000.
The inefficiencies in the DDS system are not limited to STS, but exist throughout the state-operated system. Last year, 20 DDS employees earned more than $100,000 in overtime alone, 205 earned more than $50,000, and 641 earned more than $25,000. A lower-level worker at DDS earned more than $262,000 in total compensation.
As a matter of public policy, any governmental waste is unacceptable. But the negative effect of the waste is compounded by the fact that every dollar used inefficiently at DDS is a dollar that is not available for desperately needed services and supports for those with I/DD. And it is beyond dispute that this money is desperately needed.
For example, while the governor’s budget contains a very welcome initiative to begin addressing the residential waiting list, it also cuts vital DDS programs, including the failure to fund any day and employment services for the 335 new high school graduates in FY 2018 and 355 additional graduates in FY 2019.
“If these cuts remain, hundreds of students who had prepared themselves for entry into the community will be relegated to staying at home. In many cases, it will mean that a working parent will have to quit a job to stay at home with them,” says Katie Banzhaf, executive director of STAR.
The budget also contains no new funding for the critical behavioral services program and a substantial cut to the family support program. Both of these programs provide vital services, largely in the family home, and help keep families together and avoid costly emergency out-of-home placements, including institutionalization.
Some decisions confronting our leaders are difficult. Sometimes they are forced to choose between funding one vital program and not funding another. This is not one of those times. Waste can be cut at DDS without affecting existing services, and the savings could be used to mitigate the proposed cuts to other programs. This should not be a difficult choice, but in the past, the legislature has struggled with similar decisions. Thousands of Connecticut citizens with I/DD and their families are hoping that this year, they make the right choice.
Mr. Fiorentino is the father of an adult child on the waiting list for residential services.