A state legislative panel agreed this week to consider a bill that would bar a controversial funding cut for work and social programs for the mentally retarded.

The Human Services Committee raised a bill that would block the reduction until after Jan. 1, 2011, when a new group studying program rates is scheduled to report back to the General Assembly.

When Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed legislation last fall authorizing the rate study, many service providers and legislators assumed it would forestall any change in payments for now.

But the private, nonprofit social service agencies that contract with the Department of Development Services were notified in mid-December that the administration would switch starting Feb. 1 to a system that reduces payments when clients miss more than 10 percent of program days.

“I know we have to make cuts, but this is really outrageous,” Sen. Paul R. Doyle, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of committee, said Friday. “It would save money, but it would really hurt the most challenged people in our communities.”

The governor’s budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, defended the rate change this week, arguing that state government is facing an extreme fiscal crisis. This fiscal year’s $18.64 billion budget is projected to be $515 million in deficit. The administration also is struggling to hit a largely undefined $473 million savings target built into that budget.

“Any bill that restricts our ability to make the savings that the budget requires is problematic,” OPM spokesman Jeffrey Beckham said Friday, adding that legislators looking to block the rate change should offer another plan to achieve the $3.7 million projected savings tied to it.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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