Delaware’s most vulnerable ask for help amid budget cuts

Irvin Levin is worried about his son and the people who take care of him.

Levin’s 38-year-old son, Jamie, suffers from seizure disorders. But thanks to the supervision and care provided by a program called Chimes, Jamie and his parents can live as normal a life as possible.

“We know he’s in good hands,” Levin said. “There’s never a problem there because they have very good people, caring people.”

Chimes, a non-profit organization that gets most of its funding from the state, provides a wide range of vocational, residential and health services for about 400 of Delaware’s intellectually and developmentally disabled.

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The program hasn’t received a boost in funding in eight years, and Levin wonders how much longer the people that help his son and others can continue to do so without a raise.

“You want to keep people who are happy and do a good job and you don’t want to see them leave and you’ve got to start training again,” Levin said. “And the way of rewarding somebody – a thank you is one thing – but you’ve got to reward them with something in their pocket.”

In these tough financial times, the state doesn’t have the money to keep everybody happy as Gov. Jack Markell made perfectly clear when he unveiled his budget plan for fiscal year 2012.

Now it’s up to the state legislature and the Joint Finance Committee to tweak and eventually finalize that budget. A big part of that process is a series of budget hearings in front of the JFC involving every state agency.

Appearing before the JFC Thursday at Legislative Hall in Dover, Levin was one of dozens of people speaking on behalf of Delaware’s most vulnerable, asking for help.

“You hear the horror stories in here, the sad stories,” said JFC co-chair Dennis P. Williams (D-Wilmington North). “A lot of people don’t know how fortunate they are that they don’t have to come to government asking for assistance for a family member. This is just heart wrenching.”

Thursday’s emotional pleas wrapped up four days of budget hearings set aside for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. The state’s second most costly agency is bracing for cuts even as the governor’s proposed budget calls for an increase in funding.

That’s because much of the proposed increase is meant to make up for federal stimulus money that is running out. And as unemployment remains high, demand for social services – like Medicaid and food stamps – has soared.

“With the fiscal situation that the state is in, the approach that we took based on the needs of the individuals is of course triaging those needs,” said Department Secretary Rita Landgraf. “And figuring out how we could leverage funding or leverage support to the best of our ability.”

The agency seems to have the support of at least one JFC member.

“The most vulnerable people you have to look at first,” Williams said. “There’s other places we can roll back money.”

All things considered, that’s all Irvin Levin can hope for.

“I know it’s a difficult time,” he said.

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