Cuts expected to cause suffering for those with development disabilities

People with developmental disabilities will suffer the effects of an unexpected funding cut by the province, say some of the agencies serving them.

People with developmental disabilities will suffer the effects of an unexpected funding cut by the province, say some of the agencies serving them.

Across the province, Alberta Seniors and Community Supports has cut $11 million off the amount of money it had budgeted for agencies receiving funds from the Persons with Developmental Disabilities program.

While two of the six PDD regions have been spared the cuts, Central Alberta is among those that will see less money than expected for the last quarter of the province’s fiscal year, Alberta Seniors and Community Supports Minister Mary Anne Jablonski said earlier this week.

Northeast and South PDD regions were not affected, said Jablonski, who is the MLA for Red Deer North. The reason for different levels of cuts at the remaining four was to create an equitable plan for the entire province, she said.

“We’ve asked our PDD board to achieve those savings for us. In order for them to achieve those savings, they must go to the service agencies and ask them to help,” said Jablonski.

The cut was necessary because of the toll a weak economy worldwide has taken from provincial revenues, she said.

Central PDD region, which covers a large area including Red Deer, has been asked to find $1.8 million, amounting to 1.2 per cent of its 2009 budget.

Central PDD channels funds to a variety of service providers, including Michener Services, Cosmos Community Support Services, Catholic Social Services and Parkland Community Living and Supports Society.

While some agencies have been told how much they will need to cut, others are still waiting for the axe to fall.

Karen Murphy, president of Red Deer Catholic Social Services, said on Wednesday that she still hasn’t heard how the cut will affect her agency.

Cosmos has been told it will have to cut five per cent from the funding it will receive for the last three months of its 2009-10 year, said executive director Diane Lehr.

Jablonski’s office had advised that the savings should come through reductions in administrative costs rather than cuts in services to clients, said Lehr.

But Cosmos staff already receive barely half the wages of government workers in comparable positions, she said.

For example, a Cosmos employee who must remain awake for a night shift on the weekend is paid $9.54 per hour while the equivalent government wage for an equivalent person on the same shift ranges from $21.87 to $24.62.

Therefore, while the Cosmos board must still make the final decisions, the cuts will most likely be achieved by reducing services to clients, said Lehr.

Under its agreement with PDD, Cosmos bills the province for the services it has provided its clients in the previous month.

Cosmos may be able to trim services from clients who are getting more help than they need or who aren’t fully utilizing the services available to them, she said.

“Agencies signed contracts with government in good faith and now we are being asked to return money,” said Lehr.

“Do they ask the road builders to return money from their contract? No they don’t, so why are we being asked?”