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St. Lawrence County NYSARC fears funding loss

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CANTON — St. Lawrence NYSARC is bracing for a 6 percent cut in Medicaid funding it believes could mean layoffs of 10 percent of its employees and some programs’ elimination.

The agency, which serves the developmentally disabled, absorbed previous Medicaid cuts of $1,295,140 in 2010 and 2011. It would have to slash its staff if it loses the $1,317,825 projected under the proposed reduction for Medicaid funding included in the proposed state budget, said Executive Director Daphne A. Pickert.

“We can’t do any more,” she said. “My colleagues across Northern New York are in the same straits. This will literally result in the closure of some agencies.”

St. Lawrence NYSARC has not had a cost-of-living adjustment in three years. At a minimum, the 6 percent Medicaid cut would mean the closure of one of the agency’s Seaway Industries work centers and one of its day habilitation programs.

“It’s hard for me to say right now how we would be affected. It would have to come at all levels,” Ms. Pickert said. “You can’t keep taking money without long-term consequences to the people we serve. It will reduce spending power in the county.”

NYSARC serves 750 individuals with a staff of 612. Its transportation program, which includes a public bus system, travels 2 million miles annually. It has sites offering various programs in Waddington, Canton, Ogdensburg, DeKalb, Gouverneur, Fowler, Fine, Edwards, Hermon, Hannawa Falls, Potsdam, Norwood, Norfolk and Massena.

The bulk of its $29 million budget comes from Medicaid. It also receives assistance through SSI, food stamps, a small amount of state funding and contractual sales.

It is one of the county’s top 10 employers.

In addition to its administrative and direct care staff, NYSARC employs clients through a variety of sheltered workshops, such as cleaning services.

A person who does not want services slashed is 18-year-old Emily J. Peters, DeKalb, who will graduate from Hermon-DeKalb Central School this year. Miss Peters participates in NYSARC’s Transition program, which is teaching her how to use her debit card, understand a check register, plan meals and shop for groceries and giving her employment skills.

“I just don’t want them to cut it,” Miss Peters said.

An aide helps her volunteer at the Potsdam Humane Society.

“No matter how much she wanted to volunteer in her community, she couldn’t help without the assistance of the program,” said Miss Peters’s mother, Sandra M. Bigelow, DeKalb.

Her daughter’s participation in NYSARC programs allows her to keep her job, Ms. Bigelow said.

NYSARC is appealing to state legislators to restore its funding and urging its employees and clients’ families to do the same.

“I’m hoping our elected representatives can influence this to the point where we can reduce the 6 percent,” Ms. Pickert said.

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