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March 10, 2011

Thousand Rally to Oppose Mental Health, Disability Program Cuts

IMG_2204 More than 1000 people converged on Montpelier Wednesday to oppose proposed cuts to mental health and disability programs.

They buttonholed lawmakers and the media in the Statehouse cafeteria and hallways, testified before a joint House and Senate panel and stood more than 1000 strong on the barely cleared walkways around the Capitol steps for a noontime rally.

Their message was simple: "No more cuts." People with a wide spectrum of disabilities, their caregivers, parents, loved ones and advocates implored lawmakers not to balance the $176 million budget deficit on the backs of those who have shouldered cuts in each of the past four years.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has recommended cutting $44 million from the Agency of Human Services in order to balance the budget. Of that, a total of $15 million would be cut from the agencies that provide mental health and developmental services (when you include state and federal cuts). With more federal cuts looming from Congress, individuals with disabilities who testified were visibly anxious and scared about the potential loss of key supports enabling them to live mostly independent lives.

IMG_2199 "I'm here to ask you not to cut my day-program services," said Robert Emmons, who testified before the House Human Services Committee and Senate Health and Welfare Committee during an hourlong hearing. "I work every day at American Flatbread. If I lost the program I would lose my transportation, and I would be stuck at home doing nothing and I wouldn't be able to earn any money. I would also have nothing to do and I might get into trouble and end up where I don't want to be."

Before he was able to access daily support services, Emmons said he struggled with taking his medications and getting outside of his home. That's since changed. "I like being independent and on my own, but I like someone being there when I need it," Emmons said. "We need not to take two steps backward, but move forward."

Nicole LeBlanc of Green Mountain Self Advocates said this fourth consecutive year of budget cuts to the state's mental health system could seriously jeopardize Vermont's previous gains, keeping people out of institutions such as the Brandon Training School and the Vermont State Hospital.

"Last year, the candidates for governor said they would not leave people with disabilities by the side of the road, but when you cut agencies, this does leave them on the side of the road. There are $15 million in cuts proposed for [the Department of Aging and Independent Living]," said LeBlanc. "We are headed back to the days of institutionalization and segregation by making these deep cuts. Do not balance the budget on the back of people with disabilities. Please raise taxes!"

Shumlin, who held his weekly press conference six miles away from the large rally, was unmoved by the crowd's plea to seek cuts elsewhere or raise taxes on wealthier Vermonters, even if just temporarily until the budget crisis subsides. He also defended his budget, saying it won't harm the most vulnerable in society.

"The money is just not there," said Shumlin. "We put together a budget that makes tough cuts without balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable Vermonters."

Shumlin again rejected calls from within his own party to raise taxes, or surcharges, on the very wealthy, noting that Vermonters' "appetite for spending" just isn't there in the face of a weak economy and large budget deficit.

Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) and President Pro Tem John Campbell (D-Windsor) did address the throngs outside the Statehouse during the rally.

Neither offered much hope that they could stop the brunt of the budget cuts from falling on human services.

"We have a difficult road ahead of us," said Smith, noting that any previous notions of federal help had vanished with the new Congress. "We are heading into a different and difficult climate and we need to work together, to support each other. That's not a message I like to give. It's not a message I like to hear, quite frankly. As we take this journey together, we need to keep an open dialogue and trust each other."

Smith promised their voices were heard, and he wanted to assure the crowd that lawmakers will take their pleas to heart. But he stopped short of saying that lawmakers could craft a budget completely to their liking.

"I will not make promises I can't keep," said Smith, who noted he wasn't criticizing any other politician for making such promises to the group. That generated laughter in the crowd.

"We will work to address many of the concerns you have raised today," Smith added.

Thank you Peter Shumlin for not backing down and not raising taxes. The people protesting today should be at work like the rest of us.

What extreme ignorance about mental illness. Ever see someone fall through the cracks of a poorly funded system eating out of a garbage bin and talking to themselves barely dressed? That is someone without medical and social support. And that was my friend's mother in the 1960's when there was little funding outside of being placed into a terrible institution. We had the kid living on the couch with no father and my single mom around the clock feeding us both. I went hungry a few times so my friend could have dinner. Jenny, may God give you a wake up call someday soon. I feel very sorry for your ignorance.

Jenny, did you actually even read it? This man has a job. He is working. Mental illness help is almost impossible to get in Vermont in the first place. If you're an adult and in need of a psychiatrist - good luck. Insurance, or no ability to pay, you're probably on a year waiting list. What happens in the meantime?

Great JOB covering the rally! Peter Shumlin needs to take a political risk and raise taxes! Enough of saying raise taxes on federal level! or I can see NH from my house! He needs to walk in our shoes! Capitalism must go and we must embrace Socialism! Wallstreet caused this crisis along with greed!

Walk in our shoes? You don't speak for me.

No, the Governor does not need to raise taxes to appease the unionized state workforce and its lackeys in the legislature. What he needs to do is restructure government so that it only does what Vermont needs to have done, at the lowest possible cost, instead of being the employment service that it is today.

Government does not exist to employ people. It exists to do, as efficiently as possible, only that which the people wish it to do and are willing to pay for.

Wall Street has its share of crooks, but it did not create the fact that the at least two generations of Americans since WWII have decided that they want to live well beyond their means, and now we're all f****d.

That's right people, go to work. Socialism isn't happening any time soon, thank god. Good old capitalism. Now get to work, like the rest of us.


Again, *did you read the article?*

Were it not for the social services that exist now (slated to be cut), Robert Emmons would NOT be able to work. With the "socialist" assistance of the state, he IS able to work in our capitalist society, "just like the rest of us."

Helping those less able to help themselves is not socialism. I would rather pay for this gentlemans transportation and a casemanager to assist him than have him in jail or an institution where I am footing the full bill. The department that is being cut also serves the elderly. Adult Day Services have proved for years that caring for all of these folks in the community is the most cost effective way to serve this population. Let us do it

"I would rather pay for this gentlemans transportation and a casemanager to assist him than have him in jail or an institution where I am footing the full bill."

Then by all means pay for it. You can get a tax deduction for doing so.

Steve-O Did you read the comment from Linda? It's taken from the article.She's saying it's cheaper for the tax payer to have a handicapped person working and subsidize his income than paying the full welfare bill. Or would you rather leave that person by the side of the road or in the woods and hope he gets lost.

Yeah, I understood exactly what she was saying.

If you want to avoid the $44 million cut in AHS, then you find $44 million somewhere else in the state budget to cut. But don't think about raising my taxes. Maybe the state employees union will agree not to get a guaranteed raise every year. You'd find more than your $44 million in savings there.

I've got some sad news for you, Shumlin doesn't care what you or the thousand perennial protestors think. The day he was inaugurated he had to absorb some stark realities that have nothing to do with campaign rhetoric.

A SOCIETY WILL be judged by how its treats its most vulnerable among us! Community based care is much cheaper than Brandon training school whcih was 127-200,000 a year ! ! Inclusion is a birth right Not a privlage, luxury!!!!!!!! Keep our people FREE!

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