February 26, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
Moving convicted sexual predators into group homes in residential areas is just one example of how years of state budget cuts are slashing deep into social services, the state’s leading public-employee union says.
In the Rochester area, the closure of the Monroe Developmental Center last December meant that a dozen convicted sex offenders were transferred from a secure unit there into group homes—where they are mixed in with the general population of developmentally disabled and mentally ill people, Kathy Button, a longtime employee of the state Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, told legislators at a budget hearing Feb. 11.
Stephen Madarasz, spokesperson for the Civil Service Employees Association, calls that “symptomatic of the corners that have been cut.” In Nassau County, he adds, social-services offices simply don’t have the staff to handle the demand caused by the recession—so people applying for public assistance have to wait on line for two hours just to get through security.
Other CSEA members testifying at the Feb. 11 hearings spoke about how cuts in mental-health services mean that many people who go without treatment end up in jail for nuisance crimes.
“I have many individuals with mental health problems in my caseload,” said Ron Briggs, a probation officer in Fulton County, northwest of Albany. “These folks get into trouble because the help they need is just not available. They don’t belong in jail and it’s wasting taxpayers’ money when that’s where they end up.”
In mental health, Madarasz charges, the state is using the doctrine of “deinstitutionalization” and the 1999 Supreme Court ruling that mentally ill people have the right to live in the “least restrictive” circumstances as “an excuse to provide the least services.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion tax cut, he adds, “is only going to come at the expense of actual services.” These cuts don’t just affect services, he continues: New York has lost almost 100,000 jobs in state and local government in the last four years, and the lost paychecks are particularly damaging to local economies upstate.
There’s a “short window” to change the budget, Madarasz says, because the governor and the legislature are pressing to get it enacted by April 1, but the CSEA is trying to build up grass-roots pressure on legislators to increase services.