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Florida gov slashes budget for Floridians with disabilities

Rather than waiting on legislative approval for his most recent budget cut push, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has issued an executive order slashing the state budget for social workers and group homes for the disabled.

The cuts would affect between 30,000 and 35,000 Floridians with severe developmental disabilities. They go into effect Friday and will remain in place at least through June 30, the end of Florida’s fiscal year.

Amy Van Bergen, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida, tells the Orlando Sentinel, “lt’s not like, ‘Gee, does this mean I have to skip a vacation this year?…Potentially, these cuts have life and death implications for these people.”

The news comes at the same time as a report that the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) has received approval for a federal Medicaid waiver program that is designed to help stabilize the budget. Nevertheless, the APD is now expected to operate minus 15 percent of funding.

Bob Wright, a board member and former CEO of Winter Park’s Threshold Center for Autism, tells the Sentinel that the most practical way to make do with less funding — cutting staff accordingly — would be an impossibility because it would put the Treshold Center in violation of state laws on staff-to-patient ratios. “This may break our backs,” he said.

Wright went on:

“If this were any other workplace, you would consider it a war zone…My staff gets bitten, hit, kicked, spat upon, defecated on, urinated on — for $8.23 an hour. And every time we start talking about giving our guys a pay raise, the governor comes along and cuts the rates.”

That pay rate is a dollar above Florida’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It’s also right around the average pay for round-the-clock in-home aides. Aides who work 24 hours a day for four-day stretches tell the Sentinel they make around $800 a week, which works out to $8.33 for every hour they’re on the clock.

In an ironic display of temerity, governor’s office staff happily tweeted about an appearance Scott made at a fundraiser for the Special Olympics on the same day he authorized the order.

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