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The human cost of state budget cuts

The Morro Bay four-plex where Brad Ross lives was abuzz with activity on a recent weekday. One fellow resident needed help finding her glasses. Another stopped to show us some of his prized artwork.

Brad, resting comfortably in his apartment, was eager to start baking a chocolate cake, and later, hoped to visit the ocean for one of his favorite pastimes — watching the sunset.

“It’s very comfortable,’’ he told me. “I’d like to live here for the rest of my life.”

For now, that could be a reality for Brad and other residents, all clients of Options, a nonprofit that provides residential services, rehabilitation therapy and vocational opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

But it’s not a 100 percent guarantee, and that’s what worries program directors. Options, which has a total budget of about $6 million, was hit with a 3 percent reduction in funding because of $334 million in state budget cuts to the Department of Development Services, which contracts with nonprofit regional centers to administer services.

Options executives understand the state’s plight and are willing to tighten their belts. It is currently operating with 7 percent administrative overhead, down from nearly 15 percent in the past five years. That’s resulted in cuts to employee benefits, deferred maintenance and reduced oversight.

Any further cuts could lead to an elimination of programs, placing residents like Brad, who thrive in supported living, in institutional care.

“We’ve tried to diversify and look at other things we can do to bring in additional income streams,” said Michael Mamot, founder and chief executive officer of Options, noting that the nonprofit raises funds each year by hosting such events as the Avila Beach Music Festival. “But basically, there’s not a lot we can do.”

Mamot urged the state to trim the fat elsewhere, keeping future funding hits as far away from direct care to clients as possible.

Indeed, I believe state bureaucrats would do well to see for themselves the human cost of their decision-making.

A few weeks ago, I was invited by Options to visit with some of the residents. What I saw was nothing less than inspiring. From the moment you arrive, the environment is welcoming. Bicycles were neatly arranged outside in a sunny courtyard. A tomato plant near Brad’s apartment window hung low in a rectangular box to allow Brad, who needs help to move around, to reach the plants.

The residents who live at the complex range in age from their early 20s to 60s and have a variety of needs based on their disabilities.

Some, like Brad, have serious medical issues and require the support of a caregiver who stays with them for several hours each day.

It’s care that is unique to each individual, all of whom are treated with dignity and respect.

After spending some time with Brad, I later spoke to Rae Orbon, Brad’s caregiver of two years. And she summed up why programs like this are worth saving.

“This is home for each and every one of them,” she said. “It’s like a family here. Without this, they would be absolutely lost.”

By not looking at ways to hold on to what’s best for those who need our help the most, I believe we lose, too.