The Suffolk County Legislature has voted against a proposal that would have changed the status of the Office of Handicapped Services as an independent city service.
Twelve legislators voted to pass the omnibus bill that amends County Executive Steve Levy’s 2011 operating budget. The bill, which received the required number of votes to override a potential veto by Levy, removes a proposal to place the Office of Handicapped Services within the Children with Special Needs division of the Health Services Department.
Initially only 11 legislators voted for the omnibus bill – one short of the number needed to override a veto. However, after Levy’s proposal to sell the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility was separated from the other measures in the bill, one legislator who was required to abstain from the nursing home vote was able to cast his vote in favor of the other amendments. The vote took place November 3.
Eleven legislators voted to continue, rather than sell, the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility for $19.5 million. However, that number is not enough to override a potential veto by Levy.
Critics of the proposal to move the office said it would decrease the office’s influence and effectiveness by cutting off direct access to the county executive. They also said the office’s proposed placement in the Children with Special Needs division of the Health Services Department would be an insult to adults with disabilities, particularly those without illnesses.
Roy Probeyahn, head of the Long Island Aging Out Task Force, said the change “would have emaciated the office.”
“People with disabilities are no sicker more or less than anybody else. Then to put us in with the children’s division within the health department just takes away all of the stature of the office,” said Probeyahn. “It seems to me so blatantly obvious how devastating it would be to the influence of the office, and it was not a money issue.”
Bruce Blower, who was director of the office for ten years, also criticized the proposal. “If this happens it’s saying that all disabled people will be treated like children rather than the adults we are,” said Blower. “It will not save money because the proposal keeps all of the staff members intact.”
Beverly Cody, chair of the Suffolk County Disabilities Advisory Board, said she worried that moving the office would make it more difficult for people with disabilities to get the correct information they need. The office receives around 25,000 calls per year.
“Moving the Office of Handicapped Services would be a disaster,” said Cody. “It’s terrible because it’s taking away the effectiveness of the office. It’s putting it under several layers of bureaucracy where it can’t do anything without supervisors above.”
Levy’s office did not reply to a request for comment.
This article was published in the December 2010 issue of Able News.