STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – The life Karl Beaman leads today would not have been possible during the dark days of the Willowbrook State School, but proposed budget cuts to programs for the developmentally disabled could begin the march back to that time.
Unless some agreement can be reached, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to impose a 6 percent across-the-board cut in three weeks to agencies that care for these Islanders will severely impact that community, supporters suggested.
“I am pretty independent,” said Beaman, who lives in a Graniteville community residence with his four “best friends.”
“I get around by public transportation and have a part-time job in the community, but I need the ability and trust of family that I get from living with my friends.”
More than 400 supporters attended the Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Council’s (SIDDC) annual legislative breakfast, where speakers inspired participants and politicians to fight the governor’s proposed budget cuts.
Many credited former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, with creating a path to a better, more productive life that Beaman enjoys and elevated the state’s reputation as a leader in caring for the disabled.
“How ironic that we have then Governor Mario Cuomo’s name inscribed on a plaque on the grounds of the College of Staten Island where Willowbrook was located, keep the promise,” said Ted Ericson, executive director of Crossroads Unlimited. “And a generation later his own son is breaking that promise.”
A short, dramatized video was shown depicting some of the atrocities committed at Willowbrook, which closed in 1987 and prompted the elder Cuomo to initially make that “promise” to care for the state’s most vulnerable residents.
After the video Karen Malone of Great Kills, overcome with emotion, remembered the horrendous conditions people with disabilities endured at the institution.
“That’s what it’s coming to with all those cuts,” Ms. Malone said. “They just want to put them into institutions again.”
Through tears she remarked how much better things are today, especially for her own autistic son, who attends the Hungerford School, before excusing herself from the presentation.
Continual budget cuts translate into diminished services for the disabled, and the SIDDC wanted to send a message to Staten Island’s politicians that they need to fight, said chairperson Barbara Devaney.
“We’ve sustained cuts over the past three years,” Ms. Devaney said. “We’ve been asked to do more with less. We’re doing that. We’re being creative. But doing more with less is one thing; doing something with nothing is impossible.”
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) vowed not to let the 6 percent cuts go through, while Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) said he and his colleagues “get it” and were in the fight with the community to prevent the cuts.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore) were in attendance.
Representatives for Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), and city council members James Oddo, Vincent Ignizio and Debi Rose also were in attendance at The Vanderbilt in South Beach Friday.