Some worry about Delaware’s ‘most vulnerable’ and possible funding cuts

    Delaware’s Division of Developmental Disabilities Services is looking at a five percent budget reduction. Dozens make emotional pleas in Dover to keep the funding intact.

    Twenty-four-year-old Ben Bashkow of Newark owns and operates his own paper shredding business, Big Ben Shredding.

    It is an achievement that would not have been possible, his family says, without a lot of hard work and a lot of assistance from the state.

    Ben has autism and receives services and training funded by the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services. But his family fears the funding that makes those programs possible will be cut.

    “Most people can go out and get that job on their own,” said Mike Bashkow, Ben’s 16-year-old brother. “(Ben) can’t do that. So who’s going to help him when the families can’t do it? The only place this help can come from is the government.”

    Mike Bashkow was one of dozens to appear at a public hearing before the Joint Finance Committee Thursday at Legislative Hall in Dover to voice their concerns about proposed cuts to the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services.

    Gov. Jack Markell’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 calls for $2.9 million in cuts for DDDS, a five percent reduction.

    DDDS is responsible for serving Delawareans with intellectual disabilities, including autism, Prader Willi Syndrome and Asperger’s Disorder.

    The division currently helps 3,100 people and their families.

    The division’s director calls these citizens the state’s “most vulnerable.” But Roy Lafontaine is optimistic some money can be moved around to make up some of the proposed cuts.

    “We’re working within the department and with the Office of Management and Budget to try to find a way to take care of the shortfall,” he said.

    And if they can’t?

    “We would be able to maintain core services, we wouldn’t have to displace anyone,” he said. “But we wouldn’t be able to bring anyone new in.”

    And that would be a tragedy according to Judith Govatos, Executive Director of The Arc of Delaware, an organization that provides everything from education to housing for more than 20,000 Delawareans with intellectual disabilities.

    She says the proposed cuts put this program at risk.

    “Cuts may be necessary, but I hope we will make judicious cuts, not Draconian cuts that risk lives,” Govatos told the JFC.

    For the 12 members of the JFC, the DDDS hearing was the last of 12 hearings spread out over four days that fell under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Social Services.

    “This is probably the most heart-breaking hearing that one can sit through,” said JFC member Rep. Joseph Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley). “The needs are so traumatic, so deep, so pronounced.”

    Learn more about what the Joint Finance Committee is facing this budget year when co-chair Dennis P. Williams sits down with Bill Cook on the First Person segment of FIRST, the Delaware news magazine.  Watch it Friday at 5:30 and 10pm on WHYY-TV or on line anytime at whyy.org/delaware.

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