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Families on mission to restore cut funding

Date: 4/7/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Families and human service agencies are summoning a call to action with a mission to prevent additional cuts to the Family Support and Autism Division in the fiscal year 2010 (FY10) state budget.

Residents will have the opportunity to come face-to-face with government officials at the Agawam Special Education Parent Advisory Committee's (SPED-PAC) legislative forum on April 14.

"We [SPED-PAC] want to give the citizens the opportunity to be heard directly by their legislators," City Councilor Cecilia Calabrese, also SPED-PAC liaison, said. "I need the community to know that this is their budget -- that our [legislative] representatives work for us. Too often people feel like they don't have any input and what they say doesn ' mean anything [to those in government]."

She added that legislators such as State Rep. Rosemary Sandlin, State Sen. Stephen Buoniconti, Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver and a representative from the governor's office have been invited.

David Specht, PhD., director of Community Resources for People with Autism in Easthampton, noted that approximately $85 million has been taken from overall services for people with disabilities through Gov. Deval Patrick's 9C cuts during this fiscal year. He added that additional cuts to line items in the FY10 budget include family support, respite, in-home service, case management and more.

"There are still a couple hundred families that could use our services that aren't getting any help and that's before the [proposed budget] cuts," Specht said, adding that his organization has not received an increase in family support funding for 10 years.

He explained that there are over 1,000 families throughout the region in need of services from his agency; however, Community Resources for People with Autism is only allocated enough funding for 400 families.

Specht called the possible cuts "devastating" for families in need.

SPED-PAC Vice President Angela Bonavita, mother of Mario, an 18-year-old Agawam High School student with autism, agreed, adding that her family has greatly benefited from such services.

"I have mild autism, and I need special services and community resources," Mario wrote in a letter to the governor. "I think we will lose jobs if these services are cut. Some students are on IEPs [Individualized Education Programs] and need their supports...we should not be cutting adult services when people need them."

Citizens will have the opportunity to voice their concerns to legislators at the SPED-PAC Legislative Evening on April 14 at 6 p.m. at Agawam Junior High School, 1305 Springfield St., Feeding Hills.