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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

After a few hours, protestors get a meeting with Scott staff



Joann Hayes had never protested a day in her life. She’s never had the time: She works all week for Washington County and cares for a disabled adult son.

But last week she learned Gov. Rick Scott was slashing reimbursement rates to the nurses and others who care for the developmentally disabled. So Wednesday morning, she and a nurse put her son, Daniel, into his wheelchair, drove to the Capitol and took a spot outside the governor’s office.

“All I’ve ever asked for is to keep him at home,” she said. “My greatest fear in life is I can’t take care of my son.”

More than a hundred caregivers and their charges, some of them in wheelchairs, some clinging to red balloons, piled into the governor’s office. They all wanted a word with Scott.

“Could we ask him what if it was his child?” said Chris Brooks, a Clearwater mother of an autistic adult son and program director of the Friends and Families Support Center in Holiday.

Turns out Scott wasn’t there today. He was attending events in Palm Beach. He has said the rate cut is the only way to get the Agency for Persons With Disabilities under control. It is on pace to exceed its budget by $174 million by the end of the budget year, June 30. Scott has refused to use savings money or raise taxes to fill the deficit.

But nobody today wanted to leave his office.

“Who’s going to see us?” asked one young woman, dazed when told, twice, that Scott was not in.

They waited for more than two hours as men and women in suits maneuvered around them to go behind the closed doors. They started sweating, got restless. Hayes worried aloud that her son might have had it for the day. Someone poured a can of Coke into the mouth of a wheelchair-bound man.

Ava Napoleon, admissions director at Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers, said the cuts meant fewer caregivers, fewer training programs for disabled adult clients.

“Most of our population either does not have family or their parents are elderly,” she said.

Finally, Scott’s staff agreed to see two of the group’s representatives, Ven Sequenzia of the Autism Society and Aaron Nangle, a coordinator for the providers. The two men disappeared behind the doors.

“Hey, folks, they don’t want to see us!” someone shouted and the crowd erupted in boos again.

About a half hour later, the two envoys emerged. “Go to the courtyard!” Sequenzia shouted and the crowd moved outside.

Sequenzia told them that two staffers had met with them and listened to his proposal to reverse the decision if the Senate could be convinced to match the House’s effort to restore the funds.

“There were no commitments,” he said. He added that he’d videotaped the entire meeting and would be posting in on a Web site.

Nangle called it “the same old rigmarole.”

The pair challenged the group to return to the Capitol for more protests. They said they heard Scott would be at Tampa Bay Downs this weekend and wondered if some people could show up and protest at that event, too.

“I want to make sure everybody continues to fight,” said Nangle.

The crowd broke up and Myann Levin, 17, who lives in a group home in Clay County, bounded up to the pair.

“We didn’t win this time?” she said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 5:05pm]


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