Washington, March 1 – Employment opportunities for people with disabilities are critically linked to other important issues such as Medicaid and mental health support. per Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut.
Malloy said his state his ‘”working hard… to make sure we are expanding opportunities for people with disabilities and differences.”
Addressing a press conference hosted by the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) Saturday, on the sidelines of the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, the Democratic governor also talked about the importance “of taking care of people in other ways, including healthcare.”
Malloy pointed to fellow Governors John Hickenlooper (D-CO), David Ige (D-HI), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) and Tom Wolf (D-PA) to say that “every state…that has been able to expand Medicaid has expanded treatment for mental illness in their state.”
He spoke with pride about Connecticut being ranked as the number one state in the country on mental health care. That ranking, published by the mental health advocacy group Mental Health Alliance, is based on a variety of factors including survey data and access to coverage.
Malloy tied the issue of Medicaid coverage with employability for people with disabilities in Connecticut.
“When people get treatment for their medical conditions or their mental conditions, they are employable,” he said. “That is what our goal needs to be.”
Malloy is the current chair of the DGA and is responsible for leading his party’s efforts to win gubernatorial elections across the country. He wasted no time in talking about a “lack of calculation on how much money spent on health care is actually saving” taxpayers in terms of proposed repeals of the Affordable Care Act. He accused Republican leaders of “dissembling a program and just shifting the cost to the states.” In his view, “programs that we have built to help the disabled get employed…will be wiped out.”
Despite Malloy’s statements at the DGA and his personal experiences with dyslexia, the reality facing Connecticut’s disability community is much more complex. According to calculations made based on data from the 2016 Disability Statistics Compendium, 9,274 people with disabilities left Connecticut’s workforce – the second worst job loss of any state. Between 2014 and 2015, Connecticut’s employment rate for people with disabilities dropped from 40.2 percent to only 35.2 percent. That means the Constitution State dropped in the state rankings to the 26th spot. Out of 190,691 working age people with disabilities in Connecticut, only 67,517 are employed.
The RespectAbility Report reached out to several disability leaders in Connecticut to comment on the Governor’s remarks. Kathleen Flaherty is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, a statewide nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to low-income individuals living with mental health conditions.
Flaherty expressed her organization’s gratitude for the state’s “legislative leadership for recognizing that we have to continue to invest in services and supports that enable people with mental health conditions and other disabilities to thrive in our communities.”
However, she went on to express deep concerns with some of the critical budgetary choices being made in Hartford. “On-going state budget concerns have resulted in cuts to…vital programs” that serve Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents, she said.
Flaherty also emphasized that “smart investments of state resources ultimately save the state money” and she expressed her hope to find together “a solution that works for all of Connecticut’s citizens.”
Sandy Inzinga of the Connecticut Association of the Deaf (CAD) was direct in her criticism of Malloy’s choices and their disproportionate impact on the Deaf community.
“We’re kind of going backwards,” Inzinga said. “They have deleted funding for lots of different programs.”
Inzinga point out that the State of the State address had been rendered inaccessible to Connecticut’s Deaf community by the lack of ASL Interpreter services.
As previously reported by The RespectAbility Report, in June 2016, 25 people were laid off from the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Interpreting Unit within Connecticut’s Department of Rehabilitation Services. The cuts came as part of a restructuring effort to reduce debt in the state budget. Services are no longer be provided by the state and are instead be issued through part-time employees or private providers. The state made this move in anticipation of saving approximately $30 per hour per interpreter. These measures left many people who are deaf and hard of hearing without a voice. Malloy implemented the budget cuts without a transition plan for those who receive ASL services as well as for the interpreters. This has since impacted daily living situations in schools, courts, hospitals and countless other situations.
Malloy spoke last year at the Democratic National Convention about his personal experiences with disabilities and has been open about his dyslexia. He talked about how, through accommodations, he became “the first learning-impaired person to take the essay portion of the bar exam orally.”
Critics question why this personal experience is not necessarily reflected by policy choices to better support Connecticut’s disability community.
Inzinga pointed out the fact that the governor is “taking [away] our accommodations, our interpreters. I don’t understand that, even though he has…personally experienced the need for accommodations.”