WILTON, Conn. The give-and-take in this week's federal debt-ceiling agreement mean cuts to safety-net programs may be inevitable, but Cathy Pierce , Wilton's director of Social Services, said the doom-and-gloom talk from Hartford is premature.
"It's a very complicated issue," said Pierce. "I think we'll know by the end of summer what programs will be affected."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says massive cuts by 2013 to vital Connecticut programs and services resulting from the debt deal will have a "devastating" long-term impact on the state's poorest and most vulnerable residents, and on the already fragile state economy.
Connecticut officials say the long-term effect could close or reduce vital social services programs and significantly reduce aid and services to the poor and elderly.
Malloy said he is worried most about federal funding for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor that, with $9.3 billion budgeted over the next two years, is Connecticut's largest single expense.
While Malloy and other state officials said Connecticut will receive about the same amount of money for Medicaid over the next two years, he added cuts could "be devastating in post-2013."
Officials in the state's Department of Social Services say they are worried too.
"Medicaid is the biggest expense in Connecticut and any measure that might cut Medicaid revenue is going to be a complex problem," said Kathleen Kabara, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services . "But until we get absolute dollar amounts it is not possible to begin the process of deciding where cuts will need to be made. ... The agency's first concern is always to best preserve core, direct services and to protect the most vulnerable populations."
Connecticut's Medicaid coverage includes health insurance for the disabled and nursing home costs for the elderly.
Though the deal will likely exempt Medicaid from rate increases, Medicare could be impacted, as well as Social Security and food stamps
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes said while it wasn't the deal he wanted, he voted in favor to avoid a "catastrophic first-ever default by our government."
"The Republicans control the House of Representatives and Tea Party Republicans were willing to push this country over the financial cliff for political motives," the 4th District Democrat said. "But this fight is far from over," Himes said, adding he has requested being named to the Congressional panel that will decide where most of the cuts are made.
Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said the state's finances could be hurt even sooner than 2013 if federal funding to states is cut because of the debt-ceiling bill.
Lembo states in his August report to Malloy that while Connecticut's projected General Fund surplus reached $158.9 million for Fiscal 2011, the surplus heavily depends on federal funds.
Last year's surplus, Lembo said, relied on $739.6 million in federal stimulus funds, which the state will not receive this year.
"We reached this surplus using a federal lifeline that has disappeared," said Lembo. "Dollars we depend on year after year could suddenly disappear if federal spending cutbacks result in drastic funding cuts to Connecticut. One year's federal stimulus money could become another year's devastating federal cutbacks."
Closer to home, Pierce said it's likely the Wilton Food Pantry will see an increase in its use. Right now, she said, about 45 households visit the pantry weekly.
"If anyone would like to make a donation to the pantry, they can make a check out to The Wilton Interfaith Council," she said. "It supports the pantry."
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