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Advocates for elderly, people with disabilities protest Cuomo cuts

Some New Yorkers are worried about the effects of recent slashes to the consumer directed personal assistance program

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BETHEL, NY — A small group of protestors lined the entrance to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Thursday afternoon, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo was set to arrive and speak at the Catskill Challenge Award Ceremony

"We're out here today to protest administrative cuts that Cuomo's administration has made to the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program... a program that was started here in New York State by disabled people, for disabled people," said Kendra Scalia, holding a sign that read "Why does Cuomo want me in a nursing home?"

New York State's recently approved budget includes slashing roughly $75 million from the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP), a Medicaid-funded program that allows the elderly and people with disabilities—who need assistance with daily tasks such as getting out of bed, making meals and getting dressed—to choose and manage the people who care for them. Consumers say the program allows them to manage the schedules of their caretakers as well as vet the people who come into their homes on a daily basis. The New York State Department of Health has said the budget cuts won’t affect the more than 70,000 people who use it to find aides and caregivers.

Without the CDPA, Scalia said, options for people who need assistance include nursing homes and relying on aides appointed by traditional home-care services.

"I use CDPA and I depend on these services for my care," said Brandon Johnson, also outside Bethel holding a sign. "I just want the dignity of being able to choose my own care." 

A group of employees from Independent Living Center in Monticello showed up to hold signs in support of the CDPA. The organization is a provider for Medicaid home-care services, also called a fiscal intermediary (FI). Currently there are about 550 FIs in the state. The Department of Health notes four in Sullivan County, including the Indepent Living Center in Monticello, whose employees were outside Bethel Wednesday.

Fiscal intermediaries do more than manage payroll for consumers, say those with first-hand experience. They also check assistants' logs for fraud and act as advocates for people with disabilities. 

"The problem that we have is that the cuts to the fiscal intermediaries are so grave and so arbitrary that it's going to put every fiscal intermediary in the state out of business," Scalia said. Her aide, Karen Stoner, stood nearby with a sign. 

Progam Director at Independent Living Nora Shepard said she anticipates this will happen within the next year. "If you think about cutting a budget by 65%, with the older consumers that we serve, then that means that cuts our workforce and our ability to continue to supply what people need," she said. Independent Living serves roughly 300 people in the area, Shepard said. 

As cars and a brigade of motorcycles pulled into Bethel Woods, some honked and a few stopped to talk. It was unclear whether Gov. Cuomo was in any of the vehicles that passed by. Though the budget has already passed, Shepard, Scalia and others say they won't stop pushing for the program.

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