LifeSpan program hit by budget cuts

First Posted: 10/16/2009

DOBSON A local program that provides employment services to persons with developmental disabilities has fallen victim to state budget cuts.
The funding reduction means the 32 people now being served by the employment program at LifeSpan in Dobson will be dropped from it effective Nov. 1, according to Woody Faulk, director of corporate communications for LifeSpan Inc., based in Charlotte.
Also, four of the 12 staff persons at the LifeSpan facility at 623 Rockford Road are losing their jobs. Along with providing job services aimed at helping individuals with certain mental and physical disabilities enter the labor market or community volunteer service, the facility operates a separate enrichment program for those not targeted for employment.
The nine persons now involved in the enrichment program will continue to receive services from LifeSpan. That program is funded from a different source and wont be affected by the budget cuts.
More than 900 people were served by both programs in 2007-08, according to information on a LifeSpan Web site.
Faulk explained that the downsizing stems from actions in the 2009 session of the N.C. General Assembly. The state budget approved in August included $400 million in spending reductions for treatment of the mentally ill, developmentally disabled individuals and substance-abusers.
It all stems from the states substantial cuts in the Health and Human Services Division that filtered down to us, the LifeSpan official said. The agency knew this was coming, Faulk said. We just didnt know at what level.
Money from the state which is targeted to help persons in need of such programs is funneled to community mental health agencies, which in turn can contract certain services out to entities such as LifeSpan. That company operates facilities in communities stretching from Burlington to the North Carolina mountains.
In Surry County, Crossroads is the local managed entity and area mental health authority.
Crossroads gave us notification around the first of October, Faulk said of the funding reduction. We had to make this happen in about a two-week period.
This actually represents 60 percent of our revenue over the next eight months, he said, adding that faced with the drastic cut, something had to give.
He said it is hoped that jobs can be found in the community for some of the people now enrolled in the employment program.
After the staff and client cuts go into effect, only about 15 people, including employees and enrichment program participants, will remain at the Dobson site.
Faulk said the states action is a blow to efforts seeking to move people with disabilities from large institutions into community-based programs where they receive life skills and job-preparation training in order to be functioning members of society.
But a movement is under way which could lead to the money being restored, according to Faulk.
Advocates for groups including the mentally ill and developmentally disabled are urging Gov. Bev Perdue to return $15 million in discretionary funds she withheld from local mental health authorities. They also want the governor to call the state Legislature back to Raleigh to shift funding around and otherwise find sources to restore services being cut.
Those advocates say the situation should be treated the same as a crisis caused by a hurricane or similar calamity, due to the severe impact on those needing services.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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