Fears of Cuts to Programs and Services for Disabled

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* Updated with statement from PA Department of Welfare *

Disabled people in Williamsport and the people who help them are not very happy with the governor's proposed state budget.

They claim it is taking away the ability to choose and threatening programs for people with disabilities.

Between those proposed funding cuts and changes in the way services are delivered to the disabled, there is serious concern over what will happen to programs and services that mean the world to people who cannot necessarily care for themselves.

The Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living is an organization in Williamsport that helps people with all sorts of disabilities.

Some of the people the center helps told State Representative Rick Mirabito their stories about how proposed state budget cuts would threaten programs they rely on to remain independent.

"Please don't cut the program, it's going to be too hard on me. I have two favorite people I love very much. They're very good, they take care of me," said Thelma Strahan of Williamsport.

Strahan is talking about the Attendant Care Program. It allows people with disabilities to choose who to hire to care for them. State officials plan to change the way the program works meaning some, including Strahan, could end up in a nursing home.

"I think it would break her heart. Me and Valerie, her other attendant," said Carolyn Barr, one of Strahan's attendants.

Not only that, but the Center for Independent Living has had to lay off about half its staff in the last year, many of them people with disabilities who need the work.

The center also cut hours at the gym in half and other services are also in jeopardy.

Due to the state budget woes in Harrisburg, center director Renee Sluzalis said without support from lawmakers, the situation is grim.

"It's a very dire situation because we've worked so hard to make gains we've made, and to see it slip away so quickly is truly devastating," said Sluzalis.

In one week, some of the disabled from Williamsport will take their fight to Harrisburg and tell their personal stories of how the cuts and changes to the system would negatively affect them.

The Pennsylvania Department of Welfare provided Newswatch 16 with the following statements Thursday night:

The Department of Public Welfare is in the process of consolidating financial management service providers from 37 statewide to 3 or less. This reduction of providers will streamline services across the state and keep services for consumers at an affordable cost, no matter where they are located. We do not anticipate any interruption of these services at any time during the transition.

As far as the budget proposal, this is a very difficult budget and many tough decisions that went into our proposal. With that said, it is important that we preserve the core welfare services to help Pennsylvanians most needy, but our hands are tied with 80 percent of the budget untouchable due to federal mandates. This has forced us to look at reductions of state only programs. Even with the reductions, we will still be keeping the core programs, serving the truly needy.