By Brian Witte, Associated Press
Disabled Maryland residents called on the governor on Monday to avoid budget cuts to Medicaid that they fear could seriously damage community-based support services.
About 10 people held a brief rally in front of the marble staircase that leads to Gov. Martin O'Malley's office inside the Maryland State House, down the hall from the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate. The state is facing a $1.6 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year. The rally was held four days before O'Malley is scheduled to disclose a budget proposal he says will fill the hole entirely with cuts.
The participants chanted: "We want O'Malley," "Don't cut our services" and "I'd rather go to jail than die in a nursing home" during a protest that lasted about 10 minutes. Participants are members of a grass roots disability rights activist group called Maryland ADAPT. They say Medicaid cuts could force disabled people from communities into institutions.
"We wanted to come out and share our concerns about what may possibly happen," said Floyd Hartley, who spent three years in a nursing home before finding out about a Medicaid program that enabled him to move to a home setting. "We're hoping that they don't happen, but we're here to interject to the governor that these cuts can be detrimental to many individuals within the state."
Few people were in the building at the time of the rally. Lawmakers are not scheduled to gather for session until 8 p.m. O'Malley was in Baltimore commemorating the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday and volunteering at several events marking a day of service.
O'Malley, a Democrat, has emphasized that his proposal will be the beginning of a dialogue with the Maryland General Assembly about how to handle what is expected to be a difficult budget year due to the evaporation of federal stimulus money that helped the last two years.
O'Malley has said he will keep an open mind about any new tax proposals, but he has said he will not include any tax increases.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene made up about $8.9 billion of the state's budget last year. About 70 percent of that is in the Medicaid program, which comes with a large match in federal funding and provides services to about 1 million people in the state.
O'Malley is scheduled to make his budget proposal public on Friday.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press.