The legislature’s Human Services Committee voted to move forward Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed social services budget, but not before disowning the cuts within it and debating whether the way they handled the measure was a sufficient protest.

Rep. Catherine Abercrombie
Rep. Catherine Abercrombie

Rather than vote the bill out of committee through the usual process, members voted simply to refer the measure to the Appropriations Committee. Majority Democrats on the committee said it was important to move the bill forward as part of the budget process, despite their disagreements with its substance, and some said voting to simply to refer it to another committee was a form of protest.

But Republicans said that wasn’t enough of a protest, and that committee members owed it to their constituents to vote on the substance of the bill.

Cuts in the bill include:

  • Reducing Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women and parents of minor children, which is expected to cut about 34,200 people from the program.
  • Reducing Medicaid payment rates for pharmacies.
  • Freezing admission to a state-funded program for seniors that serves those who don’t require nursing home-level care but are at risk of hospitalization or short-term placement in a nursing home if they don’t receive care at home.
  • Reducing payments available for funeral and burial costs for the poor from $1,800 to $1,000.
  • Lowering the amount of funds people in nursing homes with Medicaid coverage can keep from their Social Security and other income, from $60 per month to $50.
  • Raising the amount seniors receiving care through the Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders must pay, from 7 percent of the cost of care to 15 percent. The average monthly cost for clients would rise from $66 to $141, according to an estimate from the state Department of Social Services.
Rep. Terrie Wood
Rep. Terrie Wood

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, called many of the cuts “not only unfortunate but untenable.” He said the committee had a responsibility to take a position on the proposal, not just move it along.

Co-Chairwoman Catherine Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said it made sense to send the bill to the budget-writing committee, rather than make changes in the Human Services Committee. She’s acknowledged that there’s much she doesn’t like about the governor’s proposal.

“This has to be, in my 10 years up here, the most difficult budget that we have ever done,” Abercrombie said. “You’re not voting for cuts to stay. You’re voting for the process to continue.”

But Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said legislators owed it to their constituents to go on record by voting on the proposal.

“I think these cuts were draconian. They are out of any common sense. There are other ways to address this budget difficulty,” said Wood, the top GOP House member on the committee. “I think we need to take a stand on this.”

Sen. Gayle Slossberg
Sen. Gayle Slossberg

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said the way committee leadership chose to handle the bill represented a form of protest. Without moving the bill forward, she said, there would be no human services budget bill to move through the legislative process.

“I think that everybody in this room is in agreement on the substance of what’s in front of us,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any question that as Human Services Committee members, there isn’t anybody that is supportive of the very, very difficult choices ahead of the entire legislature.”

The committee voted 10 to 6 to send the bill to the Appropriations Committee.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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