Connecticut-Human Services Committee reluctantly agrees to pass along social services budget with many cuts
By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKERalevinbecker@ctmirror.org
The legislature's Human Services Committee has voted to move forward Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed social services budget, but not before disowning the cuts within it and debating whether the way they handled the measure was a sufficient protest.
Rather than give the bill a stamp of approval, known as a joint favorable, the committee voted simply to send the measure to the Appropriations Committee.
Majority Democrats on the committee said it was important to move the bill forward as part of the budget process, despite their disagreements with its substance, and some said voting to simply to refer it to another committee was a form of protest.
But Republicans said that wasn't enough of a protest, and that committee members owed it to their constituents to vote on the substance of the bill.
Cuts in the bill include:
•Reducing Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women and parents of minor children.
•Reducing Medicaid payment rates for pharmacies.
•Stopping the acceptance of new clients into a state-funded program for seniors that serves those who require care at home but don't require nursing home-level of care.
•Reducing payments available for funeral and burial costs for the poor from $1,800 to $1,000.
•Lowering the amount of funds people in nursing homes with Medicaid coverage can keep from their Social Security and other income, from $60 per month to $50.
•Raising the amount seniors receiving care through the Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders must pay, from 7 percent of the cost of care to 15 percent.
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, called many of the cuts "not only unfortunate but untenable." He said the committee had a responsibility to take a position on the proposal, not just move it along.
Co-Chairwoman Catherine Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said it made sense to send the bill to the budget-writing committee, rather than making changes in the Human Services Committee. She's acknowledged that there's much she doesn't like about the governor's proposal.
"This has to be, in my 10 years up here, the most difficult budget that we have ever done," Abercrombie said. "You're not voting for cuts to stay. You're voting for the process to continue."
But Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said legislators owed it to their constituents to go on record by voting on the proposal.
"I think these cuts were draconian. They are out of any common sense. There are other ways to address this budget difficulty," said Wood, the top GOP House member on the committee. "I think we need to take a stand on this."
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said the way committee leadership chose to handle the bill represented a form of protest. Without moving the bill forward, she said, there would be no human services budget bill to move through the legislative process.
"I think that everybody in this room is in agreement on the substance of what's in front of us," she said. "I don't think there's any question that as Human Services Committee members, there isn't anybody that is supportive of the very, very difficult choices ahead of the entire legislature."
Arielle Levin Becker is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (ctmirror.org). Copyright 2015 ©The Connecticut Mirror.
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