Backstabbing 'Progressive' Dem Gov Unleashes a Heartless Austerity Agenda on Disabled Residents
During Connecticut's 2016 budget session, Governor Dannel Malloy waived off calls for the third tax increase in six years and doubled down on austerity. The governor proposed $569 million in cuts and layoffs for over 2,500 public sector workers.
Malloy is a Democrat and it wasn't so long ago that he was viewed as a fairly progressive one. He raised the state's minimum wage, increased taxes for its wealthiest residents and acted quickly on gun control after the Sandy Hook massacre. Predictably, Malloy's reputation with liberals faltered after his new economic plan was revealed. Jan Hochadel, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Atlantic that, "We feel very differently now about Governor Malloy than we did a few years ago.” She compared him to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and declared that he had “turned his back on the 99 percent.”
Connecticut's Department of Developmental Services, an agency that serves over 16,560 individuals with intellectual disabilities, was presumably unsurprised by Malloy's cuts. The administration cut its budget by $30 million in 2012, $5.5 million in 2014 and $8.4 million last year. There's a $17 million reduction for DDS this year and a requirement that its leaders find ways to cut millions more. However, the governor's office says it has a plan to save even more: it wants to privatize a number of the state's group homes.
The Office of Program Review and Investigations, the state's nonpartisan investigative arm, carried out a study of privately run DDS facilities in 2011 and reported that their costs were cheaper and their health inspections were better. That study has been cited in support of the recent privatization push. In August, Malloy's office revealed plans to privatize 40 state-run group homes and ax 605 state jobs in the process. The governor says the moves will save the state about $70 million. The plan would also change the way Connecticut funds residential services, from a system that pays service providers via grants to one that simply pays a fee for each service. This alteration would potentially allow Connecticut to get back Medicaid reimbursement for some of the costs. Malloy recently made the same change to the state's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
No one denies that the system is in crisis. DDS' own studies show that over 2,000 people are on an "infamous disabled wait list" in Connecticut, unable to receive proper support because the state lacks funding. Many parents view privatization as an effective way to help their children and say private non-profit companies have been good for them.
Much like the history of DDS cuts, the privatization isn't new. Ninety percent of developmentally disabled people who receive state services already live in private settings, but a number of parents say the move will be devastating for their family members. These parents, activists and concerned citizens are leading a fight against Malloy's cuts and privatization.
"The idea that someone else can care for our children the way the state employees have is ludicrous," Lindsay Matthews, whose son has lived in a state-run group home for almost 20 years, told the Hartford Courant, "This isn't about money. It's about love and relationships."
The Office of Program Review and Investigations is not the only group that has conducted an investigation. In 2013, Senator Chris Murphy sent a letter to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services Monday, requesting an investigation that would focus on preventable deaths at privately run group homes. In his letter, Murphy cited a Courant report on the facilities: The paper's series revealed that state investigators had cited neglect in the deaths of 76 adults with developmental disabilities who were receiving services from the state. One incident involved a resident being placed in a bathtub of scalding water and several choked to death despite swallowing protocols.
"Privatization of care may mean lower costs but without the proper oversight and requirements for well-trained staff," wrote Murphy, "While individuals with developmental disabilities may not be able to speak for themselves, we are not absolved of the responsibility to care for them in a humane and fair manner."
Murphy eventually got a federal probe and the investigation's findings were released this year. They backed up the Courant's reporting and provided even more harrowing details. The audit, which examined Connecticut's treatment of 245 developmentally disabled people from 2012 through the first half of 2014, discovered that many private group homes failed to report "critical incidents" to state officials and almost never forwarded such incidents to outside investigators.
"The results of this investigation are worse than I could have imagined," admitted Murphy, "and clearly the oversight agencies have failed in their responsibility to prevent and investigate incidents of abuse. The state needs to take action as quickly as possible to address the issues raised in this disturbing report."
Advocates say such a scandal can be attributed to the massive DDS cuts: nearly $100 million has been cut from its $1 billion budget over the last four years and a large private worker turnover rate. They also say that the state is not prepared to transfer the remaining individuals who live in public facilities to private ones and that the move will overwhelm the private sector, which has also been underfunded by the state.
The SEIU's Colleen McGill, who's part of an organization fighting the cuts called Our Families Can't Wait told AlterNet that Malloy was essentially transferring middle-class jobs to a low-wage sector:
The non-profit sector has been dangerously underfunded for the last 20 years, with the state asking these organizations to do the same job for a fraction of the cost. This process results in the replacement of working class jobs with lower-income, often part-time positions. Many workers either have to work multiple jobs, go on state assistance or leave once they find other employment. An employee with the Department of Developmental services is able to raise a family on state wages, resulting in a more stable workforce and a family-environment for the individuals they care for.
Supporters of Malloy's cuts identify the sudden departure of General Electric (which moved from Fairfield to Boston) as one of the major reasons for these economic policies. "What’s changed is that the money’s not coming in the door,” Malloy told the Atlantic. However, critics say the money could be made up if the state simply taxed its billionaires and millionaires at the same rate as during the 1970s.
Malloy has been criticized, by labor activists as well as state Republicans, for handing a $22 million grant to Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. “Some day I want to live in a world where I can have it both ways,” Malloy said of the grant in an interview. “They’re the same people who say, Hey, you’ve got to create more jobs. You gotta grow commerce. You gotta build a tax base."
In comments some progressives might find shocking, Republican Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano declared:
Connecticut is in financial crisis and people are suffering. The Democrats just passed a budget that cuts from the most vulnerable individuals in society. It cuts millions from Connecticut’s welfare program, it reduces dental treatment for the poorest children in our state, and it cuts over $8 million for critical mental health and substance abuse treatment. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars in handouts for a company that abandoned plans to build in Stamford, yet continues to reap the benefits of an agreement they backtracked on. We are also talking about one of the largest hedge funds in the world with a multi-billionaire owner. Tens of millions of dollars to us is mere pennies to them.
Investment is the only way to save the system says Colleen McGill: "Only by the state fully funding both the public and non-profit sectors will we be able to see justice for the disability community in Connecticut, and a strong middle-class economy."