State deal would restore funding for disabled

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said a $90

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said a $90 million cut in money for programs for the developmentally disabled enacted in the state budget will be reversed, either through management efficiencies or an influx of cash. (June 29, 2012) (Credit: James Escher)

Travel deals

ALBANY -- Money for programs for the developmentally disabled will be effectively restored under an agreement reached by lawmakers.

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said Thursday that a $90 million cut enacted in the state budget will be reversed, either through management efficiencies or an influx of cash.

He said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has agreed to the changes and the State Legislature will act on a bill next week, the final week of the legislative session.

"We've finalized an acceptable agreement with the governor," said Weisenberg, an outspoken advocate who has a 55-year-old disabled son who needs intensive care. "This is so big for Long Island, I can't tell you."

Cuomo and lawmakers, as part of the 2013-14 budget enacted in March, cut $90 million from the program that cares for developmentally disabled youths and adults in group homes.

The reductions, which primarily affect nonprofit service providers, were forced because New York owes the federal government about $3 billion for overcharging Medicaid for decades. Cuomo said then he wanted the decrease to come from administrative costs, not direct care.

A previously established working group is supposed to find efficiencies to save $90 million in ways that don't impact programs. Under a bill amended by Weisenberg, if the savings fall short, state funds will be used to make up the difference.

Weisenberg said his efforts were bolstered by the fact that 146 of 147 Assembly members, regardless of political party, had signed on as bill co-sponsors, with only Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) missing.

An aide to the governor confirmed the agreement.

"The administration has worked closely with all stakeholders to ensure that the savings will not impact services," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. "We agreed that if the savings plan developed by the working group does not equal $90 million, that the balance will be appropriated during this budget year."

A spokesman for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said the Senate would back the agreement.

In March, as the Assembly moved toward approving the $135 billion state budget, rank-and-file members had made an impassioned effort to reverse the cuts, arguing that programs that feed and care for developmentally disabled youths and adults in group homes already often face short staffing that hurts care.

Weisenberg delivered an emotional speech on the Assembly floor.

"Where are our values?" he said. "We cannot let dollars be more important than people."

As Weisenberg reached a tear-filled conclusion, he received a standing ovation from his colleagues.

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