Advocates for disabled urge broader sales tax to avoid drastic cuts

Julia Werth / CTMirror.org

Kathy Flaherty, CT Legal Rights Project director

Advocates for people with disabilities called Wednesday for maintaining current services to the disabled by broadening the sales tax to increase revenue rather than making the drastic cuts proposed in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget.

Derek Thomas, financial analyst for Connecticut Voices for Children, said an added $1.3 billion a year could be raised by eliminating current exemptions and by making additional services subject to the tax.

Connecticut Voices was one of a number of advocacy groups represented at a press conference organized by the CT Cross-Disability Lifespan Alliance.

Malloy and the legislature are trying to close a $5.1 billion deficit in the next two-year state budget. Malloy has proposed cutting or eliminating a long list of social services programs that provide aid to people with physical or mental disabilities.

Kelly Phenix, who is able to work part-time and is a mental health advocate on the state’s Behavioral Health Partnership Oversight Council, said she relies on the Medicare Savings Program to help pay her Part B Medicare premiums.

Malloy has proposed cutting eligibility for the program from those making 211 percent of the federal poverty level to those making 100 percent.

“The impact to my life if the income limits are reduced would be catastrophic,” Phenix said.

Julia Werth / CTMirror.org

Derek Thomas, fiscal policy fellow at CT Voices for Children

“I’m not going to be able to afford this, and it scares me.” Phenix said. “I don’t know what will happen to my mental stability, my pain level, my diabetes…The domino effect that this will have will be unspeakable, because people will no longer be able to see their primary care physicians; they will be forced to go to the emergency department.”

If income eligibility is reduced to 100 percent of the federal poverty line, then more than 80,000 individuals would lose benefits that allow them to afford necessary medical treatment, Phenix said.

Advocates also cited the proposed elimination of five independent living facilities which help disabled individuals find housing and jobs and get access to food stamps and other benefits.

“The people who we serve and the services that we do are invaluable,” said Bob Gorman, who has been helped by the independent living facilities and now advocates for them. “For people with disabilities there is no such thing as a trivial thing, they need every bit of help and every bit of assistance they can get.”

The governor has urged avoiding major tax hikes in the new budget, and neither he nor any of the legislative leaders of either party have so far proposed any sales tax increase as part of a budget solution.

Several members of the Cross-Disability Lifespan Alliance said they understood the state’s fiscal crisis, but wanted the state to make the smallest cuts possible in their programs.

Julia Werth / CTMirror.org

Bob Gorman, an advocate for Independent Living Facilities

“We have made the hard choices in our organization to address the structural deficit in our budget…I am not asking to get the entire cut restored, cause in this budget climate that would be completely unrealistic on my part,” said Kathy Flaherty, director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project. “I can make things work with less money; I just can’t make them work with the bare minimum.”

But the bare minimum might be what the CT Legal Rights Project and other non-profits receive if the state budget is not finalized by the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

If no budget is adopted by then, only essential services can continue to receive funding. It is unclear what services and programs that aid disabled persons would be deemed essential by the governor’s office under that scenario.

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