Budget protests begin in earnest; disabled community rallies in Annapolis
In the middle of August in Annapolis, Lawyer’s Mall typically serves as a quiet, if steamy, corner of the capital where tour groups gather. But politics returned today, as another round of budget cuts drew hundreds of protesters who rallied just steps from the State House. They were representatives of the developmentally disabled community, including some in wheelchairs, who braved the sticky weather to get a message to Gov. Martin O’Malley: “No more cuts.”
The strong showing reflects the level of fear among caregivers, said Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services. She said state funding of services for developmentally disabled residents has not kept pace with inflation for years, and they worry the impending budget cuts could make the situation worse.
O’Malley plans to propose about $470 million in budget cuts next week. More than $250 million of the total will be carved from aid to local governments, and the remainder could come from state services like health care. Because funding for public education from kindergarten through high school won’t be affected, the cuts are likely to hit a handful of other services hard.
If budget cuts affect the developmentally disabled community, some caregivers said they might be forced to reduce staffing or discontinue services. Already, about one in three providers serving the developmental disabled has a negative operating margin, Howell said. “They are very scared about what this will mean,” she said. “I hope the governor hears us.”
Among those who are worried: Joseph Hallowell, who works at Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children in Montgomery County as a residential counselor, helping those in his care dress, prepare food and take medication. “Even in difficult times, we must keep our promise to our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “I ask the governor to prevent cuts to a system that just can’t sustain them.”
Details about the budget cuts are sure to emerge in the next few days. And with another $1.5 billion shortfall projected for next year, Lawyer’s Mall could see a lot more budget protest in the coming months.