S.C. Representative Rex Rice, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, had agreed to attend the meeting, though he had explained that a meeting in Aiken would prevent him from arriving until 6:30 p.m.
Elaine Thena, executive director of the PCBDSN, began the meeting at 5:30 p.m., giving an hour for her to provide background on the situation to the crowd.
Thena said that the 28 percent proposed reduction in the state DDSN budget came as a surprise to state officials who had expected a smaller cut.
The cut will be multiplied by the federal dollars it will cost the program, Thena said.
“For every dollar the state spends on our programs, the federal government gives us three,” Thena said. That means the total cost of a $47 million cut in state funding would amount to a $188 million cut in overall funding.
One of the first casualties of the budget cut is the early intervention program for children ages 3 to 6, set to be eliminated by July 1.
Thena said it was a shame to eliminate the early intervention program because it was one of their most important programs.
One person in the crowd suggested the cuts in services would force many to place those with special needs in government-run institutions.
Thena said that would be unlikely, as such institutions are already full, and will likely suffer from state budget cuts too.
“There are not any additional beds available in our system,” Thena said.
Thena encouraged those in attendance to be in touch with their legislators as debate on the final state budget will begin March 15.
“Let them know that these cuts would affect our most vulnerable citizens,” Thena said.
One 73-year-old man worried about the care available for his 50-year old special needs child once he and his wife were no longer able to care for him.
Another lady said she had been caring for her daughter for 19 years. The daughter was completely paralyzed from the neck down. She questioned how the state could make such a sweeping cut on money that she and her daughter depended on so much.
“It’s not like she was suddenly cured overnight,” the lady said.
Rep. Rice arrived at 6:30 p.m. and was accompanied by S.C. Rep. Davey Hiott.
Rice thanked the crowd for showing up and voicing their concerns.
“I think it is very important to hear from you,” Rice said. “I’m going to talk some tonight, but I really want to do more listening than talking.”
Hiott said that at that point he had not seen the proposed budget, as State House members were to get their first look at the document Tuesday morning.
Hiott said it was going to be a difficult budget year, and that the legislature need to take a good look at every dollar the state spends.
“There will be some state agencies that go out of business because the funds won’t be there.” Hiott said.
While the budget process is going to require some difficult decisions, Hiott promised that he and the rest of the Pickens County delegation understood the importance of the PCBDSN.
“The folks in Pickens County who represent you in Columbia believe in what you do,” Hiott said.
Rice then asked member so the crowd to take turns explaining exactly what services they depend on from the PCBDSN. He promised to have someone write down their responses and would have copies made for every member of the Pickens County legislative delegation.
“That way we will know who is being affected when we consider what to cut,” Rice said.