By Amy Karpinsky
The state's fiscal year starts Tuesday with steep budget cuts hitting human-service agencies. What this means to Fayette County agencies, and the clients they serve, is figuring out how to get by with a fraction of state aid.
The agencies, currently running on $760,000 in funding, will now have just $50,000 to stretch and meet the needs of 26,000 clients.
Representatives of the agencies and a number of their clients gathered Friday afternoon to share their fears that they are on the verge of losing programs that allow many of them to lead independent lives.
"There is a margin between competent and incompetent, and the community health services help bridge that margin," said Richard Foore. "I like to be as independent as I can."
Foore, a home service program client, receives assistance with shopping and chores around his Connellsville home. Brain surgery left his arm paralyzed. He must wear a brace on his leg and walking is shaky. He lives alone in an apartment, due mostly to the help he receives with daily living. And he rides the FACT buses to physical therapy appointments.
Without those services, Foore is concerned that he may have to move to a personal care home that will cost much more than the services he currently uses.
His concerns were echoed by many of the clients who are able to live independently and keep medical appointments, especially with the help through the Fayette Area Coordinated Transportation (FACT) buses, which is their main way of getting around.
Tommy Planiczka, who is blind, relies on FACT to attend adult day care three days a week. He said it fills the gap for the social interaction that he lost eight years ago when his parents died within a week of each other. Losing access to activities will mean a lot of changes for him, he said.
Jim Kozub, who survives on SSI, said he uses FACT for doctor and dentist appointments and goes to the YMCA for exercise. After paying bills, he doesn't have a lot of money to spend.
"I rely on transportation a lot," he said. Despite the prospect of losing access to mobility, Kozub said he feels bad for people who use FACT for dialysis services.
Kozub said human service agencies helped him to become independent. At the age of 20 his mother died, and he was unable to go out on his own. Kozub said thanks to the agencies' "fabulous work" he was able to live independently. But he still needs transportation since he doesn't have a driver's license.
Several other people complained about cuts in home service care.
Kevin Miller said poor health makes it difficult for him to get around. He said he can do some chores, although they are difficult, but feels secure knowing that the home service workers will be coming to assist him. Without them, he said, he will go back to square one.
"I'll have to do the best I can," he said.
The only other alternative Miller said is to pay for services, but that falls beyond the means of many of the people who count on the services.
Debbie Meegan, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she needs the support and help the services provide.
"I don't have too many friends, they're all users," Meegan said.
She said the homemakers are her support and the only alternative she has to maintain her independence.
Linda Richter said she completely relies on her home service workers to help with shopping, laundry, paying bills and taking out the trash.
"If I didn't have them, I would have nobody," she said. Richter, who is blind, said she can't trust other people to help, because when she did, her bills didn't get paid.
"I have no idea how I'll manage," she said.
The local agencies that stand to lose substantial funding include Fayette County Community Action, City Mission, FACT, Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission, Fayette County Housing Authority, Fayette County Mental Health-Mental Retardation and Albert Gallatin Human Service Agency.
Michelle Grant Shumar, head of the county Office of Human and Community Services and FACT, said she hopes that the Human Service Development Fund (HSDF) funds will be reinstated, but that may not happen until after the legislature ends a two-month recess. She received a letter stating that the county will only receive $50,000 this year.
Shumar said HSDF funds are fourth on the priority list. She said the county commissioners have been in contact with local legislators in urging for reinstatement of funds because the county is not in the position to supplement the human service agencies.
"It will be a very, very difficult time," Shumar said.
"We were at $760,000, and we are now faced with $50,000. How do you
allocate $50,000 for a problem that has a price tag of $760,000?" she asked.
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