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Funding spared for developmentally disabled

An Albany agreement to restore money for programs for the developmentally disabled will come as a relief for small agencies like Autism Services Inc. in Amherst and its 400 clients.

The deal, first reported by Newsday, still counts on savings, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has reportedly agreed to restore funding to programs if agencies cannot come up with the $90 million in savings they were asked to find in the current budget’s $50 billion health-care program.

Service cuts from the lost funding would have been crushing, officials of local programs said.

Day programs by Autism Services would have been in jeopardy, said executive director Veronica E. Federiconi.

Among the programs potentially at risk was a horticultural project for which 10 individuals are driven to Lyndonville for outdoor instruction.

“We have a very low percent of people who can go out to the work world,” Federiconi said. “So the key for us is to try and build in as many day experiences for people who don’t work.

“I collaborated with a horticulturist, and our folks go to Lyndonville several times a week,” Federiconi said. “It’s a safe environment that gets them outdoors doing meaningful activities.”

The state budget originally cut $120 million in aid to the state programs for the developmentally disabled, but lawmakers restored $30 million in March.

The remaining $90 million in cuts were still at issue this week. Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Nassau County Democratic, and Senator Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, warned legislative colleagues of the consequences of cutting services from the “most vulnerable people in the state.”

The Independent Living Center on Main Street helps with family reimbursement programs for individuals with disabilities so they can live in the community and not be institutionalized, said Douglas J. Usiak, its executive director.

Many of the services the center offers, such as five wheelchair-lift equipped vans to transport clients, are already pushed to their limits.

“They are booked one month in advance. It used to be two weeks,” Usiak said. “We also provide small grants for family members to help install a fence, pay for equipment or respite for caregivers.”

Usiak said his agency would probably not have seen the “real impact” of the funding cuts until October or November.

Autism Services operates rehabilitation centers on Hertel Avenue and on South Long Street in Williamsville. Each site daily serves 45 clients who take advantage of many arts-based programs led by artists, musicians and actors.

Its Coach Program offers 10 people the opportunity to work.

“But they must have a coach with them at all times, who takes them to work, brings them back and stays with them throughout the day,” Federiconi said. “They work in Barnes & Noble checking in inventory, at a pizzeria, and at Buffalo Seminary in the cafeteria.”

Federiconi said only four of the 400 clients served by her agency can be employed.

“It is scary for our families primarily because right now I have 102 children in our education program who, when they graduate, are not going to have a place to go to,” she said. “The path the state is taking is a transition directly from school to work. Day programs will no longer be an option for them. The state really wants us to focus on finding those kids jobs. Our concern is that the typical population is having a difficult time finding jobs. Taking the kids from a pretty protective environment out into the workforce and hoping they succeed is pretty grandiose. But we have to try.”