The Lessons of Willowbrook – QNS.com

The Lessons of Willowbrook

If history teaches us anything, it is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Governor David A. Paterson’s recent directive to reduce state allocation to the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) by 10 percent is a chilling reminder that what’s old is new again.

A half century ago NYS was lauded for it’s efforts in supporting individuals with development disabilities in what at the time were considered state of the art facilities such as Willowbrook.

We all know what happened in that infamous institution when the State repeatedly cut back on its funding. The state of the art became a state of despair and thousands of people were forced to live in sub-human conditions. There was never a “public policy” to create such appalling conditions but there was misguided public policy, which removed itself from responsibility and voided its ethical and moral compass.

Cuts of the magnitude proposed by Paterson will surely lead us down a similar path unless more reasoned voices prevail. We all understand that New York State is going through difficult economic times and OMRDD has already seen its fair share of cuts over the past year. This latest proposal, however, will jeopardize the health and safety of the vulnerable individuals we care for and cause many agencies to close.

Since New York Sate is required by law to care for these individuals, the State will again become the primary provider of support.

Massachusetts, facing a similar economic crisis, rescinded cuts to developmental disabilities service programs from $60 million to $7.7 million. The Governor said he made his budget decision based upon what he believed to be the core principles and values of the people in his state.

Are individuals with developmental disabilities less deserving in New York State?

The Governor’s proposed cuts are actually penny wise and dollar foolish given that for every one dollar he cuts in state aid, New York State loses a matching 61 cents from the Federal government. New York State developmental disability services has already agreed to $86 million dollars in reductions and revenue enhancement. We cannot absorb another reduction in funding.

The additional $159 million in proposed cuts by Paterson for the remainder of this fiscal year has the potential to eliminate 6,000 jobs statewide. More importantly, it has the potential to destroy the lives of thousands of people with developmental disabilities.

The incremental victories that this community has begrudgingly won over the past three decades will be eliminated by one broad stroke of the pen.

We cannot let this happen to our most vulnerable citizens.


More from Around New York