PALMETTO -- Near her bed, 55-year-old Susan Rex has books and puzzles and pictures of trucks she likes.
She also has a best friend, Angie Cianfaglione, that she hangs with.
But the neatly landscaped, five-bedroom group home on 36th Avenue East in Palmetto -- where Rex has lived for 24 years and shares with nine other developmentally disabled adults -- is in danger of closing.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott late last week issued an executive order that immediately initiated rate cuts in developmental services programs statewide that serve tens of thousands of residents with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental disabilities.
Scott’s cuts will erase $740,000 annually from the roughly $3 million budget of Manasota ARC. For the past decade, the local agency has provided services for individuals in Manatee and Sarasota with developmental disabilities, said Dierdra Walker, acting executive director at Manasota ARC, whose acronym stands for Association for Retarded Citizens.
The rate cuts may force the closure of Susan Rex’s home along with five other residential group homes that Manasota ARC runs in Manatee County for 40 people, Walker said Sunday.
Manasota ARC also runs an Adult Day Training site at 3659 Cortez Rd. W. where 85 people go Monday through Friday to assemble boxes and pens for pay, as well as create jewelry and paintings that are sold at Manasota ARC’s yearly fund-raiser, City Slickers.
The not-for-profit Manasota ARC also serves 40 people in a supported employment program and 21 people who receive behavior services to gain independence and learn socially appropriate skills.
All of these programs are in danger of closing, Walker said.
“We are reeling from this,” Walker added. “We spent a lot of time Friday crunching numbers. We are trying to figure out how we can survive.”
For Mary Rex, Susan’s mother, there is only one number that really matters.
Manasota ARC serves as total of nearly 200 people every day who otherwise would have nowhere to go during the day, nowhere to lay their head at night, no one to call a family, she said.
“I understand that everyone has to tighten their belt during these times,” Mary Rex said. “But I can’t believe they would take away funding from the most vulnerable of our population.”
For Bob and Barb Lombardo, the cuts would be devastating news.
The Lombardos’ son, Chris, 34, is developmentally disabled, lives in his own apartment with in-home support services and attends Manasota ARC’s Adult Daily Training site as his job.
“The day he and a friend got jobs he came home so excited,” Barb Lombardo said. “He said, ‘Mom, we’re gonna work!’”
Chris Lombardo also volunteers at a nursing home, a thrift store and an animal shelter.
In part because of their son, the Lombardos helped start Manasota ARC 10 years ago. Bob Lombardo is still on the board of directors. He believes the cuts are short-sighted. He believes the state will pay more if these individuals have no place to go and end up in hospitals. And he would like a minute to express his views to Scott.
“I would say, ‘Get with the people who council you and take another look at what you just did,’ ” Lombardo said. “‘If these individuals wind up with nowhere to go, it will cost you and me a whole lot more than it does now.’ ”
Walker would like to invite the governor to Manatee County to visit the group homes and Adult Day Training facility.
“I would love for the governor to spend a day at our agency and see what we do,” Walker said. “He would see people who are dedicated to their jobs who do whatever they have to do to support these clients. He would see people happy to come to the Adult Day Training site because they know we are there for them. Without the Adult Day Training site, the majority would sit at home with nothing to do and no one to be with.”
The City Slickers fund-raiser is scheduled this year at 6 p.m. April 15 at the home of Caleb and Michele Grimes in Palmetto.
To attend the City Slicker event, call 752-2976. Tickets are $100 per person with all funds going to programs and services, Walker said. Donations are welcome and can be sent to Manasota ARC, 3659 Cortez Road W., Suite 130, Bradenton 34210, Walker added.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686