Kathy Abramson’s 25-year-old daughter resides in an independent living home for adults with developmental disabilities, but usually comes home on weekends, and they typically end up at the Palisades Mall.
“Every time that we are there, without fail, Wendy is greeted by someone, usually a stranger to me, who knows her from Camp Venture, Touching Bases, Challenger Baseball, bowling, Special Olympics, horseback riding or even her old school, Jesse Kaplan,” Kathy Abramson said. “Wendy has Angelman syndrome and a result of this syndrome is that she didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was 12-years-old. It meant that we spent night after night in hospitals trying to find the right medication to stop her seizures. It meant that she started school and therapy at eight-months-old. It also meant that my daughter could not speak. Not one word. Not ever.”
Because of this, Abramson said the various programs her daughter has been a part of are incredibly important to her and her family. On Friday, Abramson shared her daughter’s story with a crowd well into the hundreds who packed into Kirkbride Hall at Letchworth Village in Stony Point to voice their opposition to a proposed $120 million, or roughly six percent, cut to the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
“Wendy belongs to Rockland’s community. This young lady has been given a voice and is loved by the people around her,” Abramson said. “Someone is always there watching, caring, doing for my child and my friend’s child and my neighbor’s child and so on. Cut Medicaid as it has been proposed and our community will fail our most needy members. Agencies that are barely holding on by the skin of their teeth will close. People who are smart and dedicated and grossly underpaid will lose their jobs. And worst of all, all of the 'Wendys' in New York will lose their voice.”
The rally was spearheaded by Jawonio, along with support from a number of other agencies, including ARC of Rockland and Opengate in Somers. The rally was attended by a number of local elected officials, including State SenatorDavid Carlucci, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, Assemblyman James Skoufis, Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature Harriet Cornell, Rockland County Legislator Ed Day, Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato and Stony Point Supervisor Supervisor Geoffrey Finn.
The crowd was rather raucous, often times cheering and applauding during the various speakers. Day led the crowd in a booming “we are the six percent” chant toward the end of the rally.
Also speaking were members of the various programs, parents who have used the services for their children and other advocates.
Jawonio Education Program Director of Education Gail Nachimson and her son Evan Nachimson both spoke on Friday. Evan Nachimson has not only used the services, but now works part-time for Jawonio as a direct support professional, working with disabled adults, while also attending college part-time.
“I also live on my own and I am very proud of my accomplishments, but I am very worried if the six percent cut happens, services like this will be reduced or ended,” he said. “People with disabilities deserve the chance to live like everyone else and be happy, to be safe and to contribute to society. I am grateful for help I receive, but worry what will happen to the people I take care of and to all those who come after me who need the service too. Please don’t forget about us, Mr. Governor. We may have different abilities, but we are people first and we matter.”
Gail Nachimson said that as a mother of someone who has used the services and an employee of Jawonio, she sees how the proposed cut would affect many people in multiple ways.
“As a parent of a young adult, I’m dismayed that the very services that are enabling my son to reach his potential and live an independent and productive life may be taken away as a result of these drastic and unfair cuts,” she said. “Without the support and services provided by Jawonio and Another Step, my son would not have the opportunity to do what most other young adults do very naturally: go to school, work and live on their own. This catastrophic cut will endanger the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens, force non-profit agencies to cut or eliminate programs and staff and will place an undo hardship on families already struggling to provide for their children. As a provider and a parent, I urge you to take action to stop this cut in funding.”
ARC of Rockland Deputy Executive Director Steven Rubinsky said it was appropriate to hold the event at Letchworth, which experienced its own budget cuts, leading to the grounds becoming overcrowded and understaffed.
“That became the reason why people started moving into better settings and better places to live and better programs,” he said. “The budget cuts started the ball rolling, and what we are afraid of is a return to the days when we don’t have efficient funding to help people, to support people, to enable people to grow and live fulfilling lifestyles.”
Carlucci backed that sentiment.
“We know we need to balance the budget. We know it’s challenging times, but we’re not going to balance the budget on the backs of people with developmental disabilities,” Carlucci said. “As you heard Dr. Rubinsky talk about, right here, it’s so fitting that we’re here today on the grounds of Letchworth Village where just a few short decades ago light was shined in these buildings. Cameras finally came in and exposed the horrific conditions that our family members, our brothers and sisters, our loved ones were living in. And we’re here today to say ‘no way, we’re not rolling back the progress we have made.’”
Carlucci also brought with him his petition to oppose the cuts, which had more than 11,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
The theme of speeches from many of the state representatives was sticking together and letting the governor know just how many people oppose the proposed cut and how many people it could negatively affect. Jaffee said she recently was in a committee meeting where the cuts were questioned, but not real answers were provided.
“My community is panicking. My community is concerned. We cannot allow this to happen,” she said.
“There was no answer and that was not acceptable because you matter.”
Zebrowski agreed and said they all have a few days left to make their case.
“We all go by different titles,” he said. “We go by assemblyman, senator, legislator, but what we really are is representatives and I take the word representative very seriously because I feel that I represent you. Your needs are my needs. Your priorities are my priorities and your voice is my voice up in the New York State Legislature.”