Six PR Lessons Learned from Maddow Tax Return & ‘Leak’, Trump-Media Wars

Rachel Maddow’s much-hyped tweet about her Trump tax return ‘scoop’ is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing PR war from which she has emerged badly wounded

The apparent “leak” of President Trump’s 2005 tax return, first reported by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC after she set off a social media frenzy by tweeting about the “scoop”, is just the latest example of the head-spinning PR wars being fought daily between the media, the Trump Administration and the countless behind-the-scenes power players all trying to control the country’s political discourse as well as its future.

While there is no proof of who leaked the tax return by leaving it in the mailbox of investigative financial journalist David Cay Johnston, my bet is on President Trump or someone very close to him who did it under his direction. It certainly fits Trump’s pattern of posting outrageous and provocative tweets, or shifting the timing of presidential announcements, executive orders or Supreme Court nominations to change the headlines and attempt to replace critical news coverage with some positive spin.

Trump also has a history of leaking material about himself when he thinks it’s in his interest and reportedly used to pose as his own spokesman in phone interviews to disseminate flattering information about himself. When I interviewed Trump about “The Apprentice” while working as a journalist at The Hollywood Reporter, he certainly sang his own praises, those of the show and the product placement fees paid by advertisers despite sliding ratings at the time.

Trump, through his obsession with the media, attempts to control what they report, and unrelenting attacks on their credibility, has demonstrated perhaps more than any other president in modern U.S. history how critical PR and managing your public image truly is to achieving success. And this, even in an era when the traditional media have lost an enormous amount of influence and control over the news and information that gets disseminated around the globe to social media, bloggers, countless digital media sites, hackers and unscrupulous producers of actual “fake news” for profit or propaganda purposes.

I’ve heard it said, especially by Trump supporters, that all press is good press, and while negative press did indeed help Trump get elected, it’s clear from his unrelenting efforts to control and discredit the media that positive press is far superior. As a former journalist for Reuters, AP and The Hollywood Reporter and Founder and CEO of AWAKEN PR, I have a deep understanding of both the media’s perspective and our clients’ need to manage their public images with positive publicity.

Having witnessed how the media was manipulated during the campaign and to a lesser extent the Trump presidency (though journalists have gotten much better at challenging and fact-checking Trump and rising to the urgent calling of serving as the fourth estate to protect U.S. democracy), the lessons for the media, the public and every individual, company or organization seeking success are clear.

1) The media, usually due to the nature of the “beast” – the instantaneous deadlines, pressure to produce ratings, clicks and stories that sell from their profit-seeking corporate bosses, and to scoop the competition which now could be almost anyone on the globe with Internet access — are too easily used as pawns by way more powerful people leaking information or trying to spin the story in one direction or another. In a perfect world, journalists would have the time to investigate and verify every piece of information conveyed to them, which they then report to the public. Just imagine if they had taken the time to investigate and dig deeper into the polling numbers they were reporting during the campaign; if they had questioned how pollsters were coming up with the numbers that consistently showed Hillary Clinton in the lead, or had taken the time to investigate Trump’s claims of hidden support in swing states and even traditionally blue states.

2) It seems quite clear that whoever leaked Trump’s alleged 2005 tax return did so to make Trump look good. All the potential conflicts of interest and details we really needed to see were missing from the two pages of the 1040 that Maddow revealed on her show Tuesday night. And apparently due to the pressure to produce ratings and promote her own brand, Maddow seriously over-exaggerated her “scoop” by tweeting, “BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously).”

Even though she subsequently tweeted that the tax return was a 1040 from 2005, Maddow became a mockery all over social media, including among fellow journalists, and the butt of late-night TV jokes, damaging her own credibility as a serious journalist. Even the highly-respected super-intelligent Maddow became a pawn in the PR wars being waged daily by and with the Trump Administration. Even she needed some PR counsel.

3) Going on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and ignoring the social media outcry over her own misleading PR spin was not a smart move nor did it do much to restore her reputation. I would have liked to see her acknowledge the hype and apologize for it. Everyone makes mistakes but rather than owning up to it, Maddow’s decision to continue promoting the PR spin that she had achieved some enormous scoop with those two pages of a 12-year-old 1040 was quite self-serving and short-sighted. Explaining the pressures, circumstances and even caught-up-in-the-moment excitement that led to that tweet would have been the smarter way to go.

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In an interview with the AP Thursday, Maddow continued to deny any journalistic faux pas, saying that if people felt let down by her tax return story it was more because of the weight of expectation than anything she did.

While Maddow did achieve that much-coveted ratings coup — more than 4 million viewers watcher her show Tuesday night, making it the biggest audience in her show’s nine years on the air and the second most-watched regular show ever on MSNBC — the damage to her previously stellar journalistic reputation was done. Clearly, Maddow has become the latest casualty in the daily battles of media manipulation, and she needs to admit the defeat to begin restoring her reputation.

4) With a White House led by a president who lies habitually confirming the authenticity of the tax return while calling it “totally illegal to steal and publish”, and Trump at the same time labeling the tax return as “fake news” on Twitter, it’s not even possible to know for certain if this 1040 is really Trump’s. It does seem quite likely that it is, however, especially because it certainly makes him look like he paid his fair share of taxes. That may very well be the reason he or someone close to him orchestrated the release of that one particular year and just those two particular pages of his 1040.

5) It is clear that everyone needs PR including the media themselves to build and manage their public image. In fact, the press needs PR like never before with their credibility at all-time lows and Trump constantly on the attack to discredit them and quash any criticism of his Administration. His Democracy-damaging diatribes against the media, who are working feverishly under constant threats and enormous pressure to serve the public interest, echo those of the world’s worst tyrants and have emboldened dictators around the world.

6) I acknowledge that this blog too is PR because as I said every single business, brand, nonprofit, organization, government agency and individual seeking to promote a positive public image that will translate into success, whether in governing, sales, brand building or social change, needs PR! It is invaluable to have a public relations agency like AWAKEN PR that understands the media, how they think and the pressures and constraints under which they operate. It makes us that much more effective in building and protecting your public image and your brand! Our journalism background also makes us highly qualified and extremely passionate about serving clients dedicated to bringing about positive change in the world through their businesses, organizations, nonprofits, startups, art and entertainment projects and other individual talents. For more information or a free consult, visit awakenpr.com or contact us here.

Six PR Strategies to Turn Oscars Fail into Oscar Gold for PwC

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Sorting out the unprecedented Best Picture faux pas at the Oscars 

While this blog is about PR rather than Journalism4Change, I am posting it here because at AWAKEN PR, we utilize these types of PR strategies to help organizations, businesses and individuals effect positive social change.

The humiliating but very human failure of two PwC accountants viewed live by millions of people around the world at the Oscars dealt an enormous blow to PwC’s brand and now it’s time for the accounting and professional services firm to do whatever it can to repair its public image.

Taking full responsibility for the unprecedented snafu and apologizing to ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land,’ Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture was a smart first step. But barring any legal concerns, PwC should be taking more proactive measures to seize the moment, and narrative, and rescue its public image by turning those Oscar “lemons into lemonade.” Instead it seems to be keeping a low profile and hoping the public will forget the massive blunder that has become the fodder for non-stop punch lines in conversations, on social media and late night comedy shows.

In today’s world where human failure is frequently forgiven especially when it’s accompanied by apologies and sincere remorse (think Adele screw-ups at both the 2016 and 2017 Grammy Awards, or minus the apologies and remorse in a class by himself, Donald Trump being forgiven or getting away with so many ethical violations, outright lies and disparaging remarks against the vast majority of Americans that our heads are spinning), PwC can and should take a number of steps to transform the brand-bruising blunder into a brand-building opportunity. Here are six possibilities for PR spin:

1. PwC should use social media and their website to offer up testimonials from their vast array of Fortune 500 clients who can attest to their generally stellar record of accuracy and integrity.

2. PwC should offer the major media interviews with PwC Global chairman Bob Moritz and U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan in which they should sincerely apologize for the blunder again, talk about the steps they’re taking to ensure no such recurrence at the Oscars, and speak generally about procedures they have in place to ensure integrity and accuracy in the much more mundane accounting and consulting work they do for their multinational clients.

3. In major media interviews, op-eds and/or blogs on their website that will get picked up by countless news organizations and drive traffic to their site, Moritz and Ryan should speak about why PwC is standing behind their two partners who screwed up on Oscar night – Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz – even if they will no longer be involved in the Oscars ceremony.

In online searches of the good that PwC does, I discovered a very impressive corporate culture and a PwC foundation that funds many great causes but first and foremost among them lists supporting the people of PwC in times of need in their lives, as well as celebrating with them in times of their remembrance and achievement. Speaking about this PwC culture of loyalty to and concern for its employees can certainly begin to change the narrative to a much more positive one for PwC. The PwC Foundation also supports charities at which its employees volunteer at least 25 hours with donations of $2,500 per person per year and since 2001 has donated $6.7 million to “support the people of PwC,” according to the PwC Foundation site, pwccharitablefoundation.org.

4. Again, on its website, in blogs and in interviews, Moritz and Ryan can speak about the most dramatic examples of employees or partners whose lives have been positively impacted by the PwC Foundation during tough times in their lives, as well as the other great educational, social entrepreneurship, veteran and humanitarian causes the PwC Foundation supports with donations totaling nearly $50 million.

5. In a world in which we are ALL guilty of being distracted by our cell phones, social media, and posting selfies to bolster our own followings and personal brand images, and in which most of us would likely be just as star-struck and tweet-prone at the Oscars, the public is likely to be forgiving and understanding if Culligan steps up and takes responsibility in a self-deprecating manner. I can see him being interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert, and many other late night show comedians, and mocking himself with humor while sincerely apologizing to all those who were hurt by his faux pas.

He could say something like, “I really screwed up. I was star-struck and tweeting a photo of Emma Stone. I thought I could manage this multitasking thing effectively enough but clearly Emma looked so beautiful and I was so star-struck my brain wiring short-circuited. Then when I realized the screw-up I froze. I mean this is LIVE television we’re talking about.” Of course, Culligan could be much funnier than that. But who couldn’t understand messing up like that, if they were in Culligan’s shoes? It could happen to anyone. We’re all human and make mistakes.

6. As part of a late night or major news media interview, Culligan, Moritz or Ryan could squeeze even more lemonade out of those Oscar night lemons by announcing the funding of research studies or nonprofit initiatives that are educating the public about the dangers of driving while using cell phones; or that are researching the damage of cell phone and social media usage to work productivity, or even the ability to stay focused in general, or other repercussions such as addiction, loss of sleep, or the decline in the reading and writing abilities of young people raised in the digital age. Or they could fund initiatives to educate the public about the importance of staying focused on work rather than social media and texting during work hours. They could even create a PSA campaign of their own to bring attention to these issues.

Many of these steps I’ve outlined could not only repair PwC’s brand image, but take advantage of all the negative publicity surrounding the Oscars and turn it into more positive publicity than ever before, boosting its bottom-line profits like never before. After all, Donald Trump turned all his negative publicity into an unprecedented election victory upset to become president of the United States. It’s time to be PR-savvy PwC and spin PwC’s biggest public gaffe ever into its biggest advantage ever. And the time to do it is NOW!

Vote for Positive Change with Clinton Not Devastating Change with Trump

On Election Day Make Your Vote Count! The future of the U.S. and the World is at Stake!

By Gail Fitzer

Like so many of my fellow Americans, I am truly devastated by this unprecedented U.S. presidential election, and so worried about the future of this great country and the divisions tearing us apart. I cannot believe how low we have sunk as a nation and how we as Americans can see things so incredibly differently, how nearly half this country can want to vote for a man like Donald Trump.

I try to be open-minded. I know I am open-minded, much more so than many other Democrats or Republicans. I can hear the opinions and positions on both sides of the aisle with an open mind. I was trained to do so as a journalist covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a time when being objective, not voicing your opinion, was the gold standard of journalism.

I have brought that ability to remain objective into the realm of PR, on occasion representing nonprofits or companies that I don’t align with politically or ideologically, which is why a meeting I set up between Rudy Giuliani and wounded Israeli soldiers for the nonprofit Belev Echad appears on the home page of my company’s website, awakenpr.com, though after his off-the-wall comments during this campaign I am very inclined to take it down. It’s also how I recently represented a staunch Trump supporter who attended the Republican National Convention in his bid to publicize his Decision 2016 political trading cards despite my own misgivings about Trump. I interviewed Trump when I was a reporter at The Hollywood Reporter but like most of us, before this campaign I never realized who he was or the depths to which he would sink to win at all costs.

When I watched the Republican convention, there were moments I was impressed, especially when Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. spoke. And there have been rare moments when Donald Trump has actually spoken about the economy that I actually thought he made some sense. But those occasions when he is not insulting others, inciting fear, hatred and intolerance, spewing blatant lies, vitriol and vicious negativity, or trying to undermine our great democracy are so few and far between, I could never hear any real ideas coming from him for more than a few brief moments.

As a former journalist and PR professional who sees her role as HONEST and effective communication on behalf of the public or clients trying to effect positive change in the world, it is truly frightening to witness how Donald Trump can so easily and effectively lie, distort truths and manipulate millions of Americans to believe he is actually going to make America great again when I am so terrified he is going to destroy our great democracy and could easily lead the way to the next world war with irreversible consequences.

I simply don’t understand how nearly half this country doesn’t see what a dangerous man Donald Trump is. His scare tactics, his blatant lies and distortions, his questioning of the legitimacy of this election unless, of course he wins, his threatening to seek Hillary Clinton’s impeachment and to paralyze the government if she does win, his incitement of hatred against so many segments of the population, his blatant disregard for the constitution and the rule of law, his scapegoating tactics and refusal to ever accept responsibility for his own failures, his lack of conscience and truly dictatorial tendencies all remind me way too much of the tactics Adolf Hitler utilized to rise to power, start World War II and commit genocide against millions of innocent people. Do people not learn anything from history? Do Donald Trump supporters not fear history repeating itself?

How so many Orthodox Jews can support Trump because they think he’ll be better for Israel or because he has a Jewish son-in-law and a daughter who converted to Judaism, when his brand of hate-mongering is drawing the support of white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis like no presidential candidate in history and when many of his political tactics recall those of Adolf Hitler is simply beyond my comprehension.

I know Hillary Clinton is truly flawed. I know she is far from perfect. I know she and Bill Clinton have made countless mistakes and lied repeatedly when they have been caught in scandal. The scandals now plaguing Hillary Clinton are sadly too numerous to list or even attempt to defend. Politics is a very dirty business and power definitely corrupts. Hillary is far from innocent but she has spent the better part of her life in public service trying to improve the lives of those less fortunate than herself. She may have made many serious ethical blunders when it came to the Clinton Foundation, but at least the foundation has helped people around the globe with projects ranging from public health to elephant-poaching protection and small-business assistance to child development.

She may have made errors in judgment as first lady and secretary of state but she also has a tremendous record of fighting for the rights of women and children, minorities, the middle class, and the less fortunate from all walks of life in the United States and around the world. When Bill Clinton was president, the world was a much safer place and the economy was booming. There is a track record of public service to engender confidence despite their many failings and human flaws. Did you ever ask yourself honestly if you are certain you would do much better in her shoes to never make the wrong judgment call, to never take money from the wrong donors or cross an ethical line, to never say one thing to a Wall Street audience in order to earn income or raise money for your campaign and another when you’re campaigning for votes, or to lie if you were caught in a scandal? I think we’re all so quick to stand in judgment but I’m not certain we would do better faced with the same ethical dilemmas and enormous political and fundraising pressures.

I’m not saying her scandals are not a huge problem. They are! However, given the choice between Clinton and Trump, there is no alternative but to vote for Hillary Clinton, which is why so many leading Republicans have said they are voting for Clinton and have not supported Trump’s candidacy. If Clinton wound up impeached in the worst case scenario, the United States and the world would be far better off with Tim Kaine stepping in as president than we ever would be with Donald Trump at the helm.

I truly wish Hillary Clinton would have actually made a brief comment about being cleared by FBI Director James Comey in her latest infamous email scandal. I think it would have gone a long way in engendering confidence and helping her overcome her reputation for secrecy. It’s like the elephant in the room and just ignoring it without saying, “Yes, I’ve been vindicated AGAIN as I knew I would be. Now let’s move on to bringing the country together and addressing the issues,” was not the smartest move in my opinion.

In contrast to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s lies and scandals, which are also numerous and damning, center around his greed, his sexual assaults on women, his failure to release his taxes, his belittling of nearly every segment of the population other than white males, and his desire to win at all costs no matter who gets trampled on in the process. And while he berates Hillary Clinton relentlessly and incites his supporters to scream “lock her up” for the email server scandal that has plagued her throughout this campaign, he simply ignored the allegations of connections between Russia, which has been publicly accused by the U.S. government of being behind the hacks on Clinton campaign and DNC emails, and his campaign advisers or backers. And fails to condemn Russia for interfering in a U.S. election.

And while they are both embroiled in scandal, it has been proven that while Hillary lies when she is caught in scandal, Trump lies all the time, often for no reason at all, and the only possible explanation seems to be that he is a pathological liar who doesn’t even care or comprehend that he is lying.

According to Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, who makes a list of every Trump falsehood every day, “We have a candidate who lies strategically and pointlessly about most things big and small but most of all lies frequently.” He told CNN Trump states more than 20 falsehoods a day, up to 37 on some days. In the three presidential debates, Clinton stated four, five and four false things respectively by Dale’s count. Donald Trump in comparison uttered 33, 34 and 37 falsehoods. “So there is a massive imbalance in the frequency of dishonesty.”

Worse than even the lying, Trump has proven he has no regard for U.S. democracy, the rule of law or our constitution. He has incited unfounded fears of rigged elections to such an extent that I wonder if this is what it feels like to live in a third world dictatorship where power is stolen in elections vs. our amazing democracy that has been a true beacon to the rest of the world since our country’s founding. By blaming the media for rigging the election at every turn, and irresponsibly calling out journalists by name, he could easily be inciting violent crimes by his supporters, many of whom have proven they are willing to turn to violence.

The system is rigged only when it works against him. The FBI is part of that rigged system only when it decides not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. The elections are rigged only when he loses.

Donald Trump is not a leader. He is a dangerous, power-hungry pathological liar who has already led this country into the gutter, if not the cesspool, and given the chance could lead us into world war and decimate the U.S. economy and our democracy.

In contrast, when Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primary, she was graceful in defeat; she didn’t suggest the elections were rigged or insanely say she would only accept the outcome of the elections if she won. And when she ran against Bernie Sanders in the primary, she ran a campaign based on issues not mud-slinging, and rose to the ethical issues-based campaign standards set by Bernie Sanders. In contrast, Donald Trump ran the same kind of mud-slinging, vicious, do-anything-it-takes and destroy all who get in your way or dare insult you campaign in the Republican primary. It was Donald Trump who forced her hand; who forced her and this entire presidential campaign to sink to such depths, making all of us sick to our stomachs.

I am terrified at what Donald Trump and his supporters could do when he loses. He is clearly an incredibly sore loser.  It is up to the Republican Party and its leaders to step up to safeguard our democracy and safety and concede defeat as soon as the media declares a winner! And not allow Trump to question the legitimacy of the elections for even a moment.

Politicians and their communications teams are complete masters at PR spin. Fortunately, Trump refused to listen to the advice of his communications team and showed his true colors throughout this campaign. But there is no spinning who Donald Trump is, his lack of conscience, his pathological lying, his Hitler-like tactics, his megalomania, his belief that he must win no matter what it takes, even if it means challeging American democracy or inciting violence. He poses a threat like no other presidential candidate in history. Do not be fooled America. Do not take this threat to U.S. democracy and the future of the world lightly. With ISIS, Iran, North Korea and Russia’s Vladimir Putin posing enormous threats to the United States and the world, and a completely unhinged and impulsive Donald Trump potentially having access to our nuclear codes, the world has never been more dangerous.

Today on election day, when the future of our great country stands in the balance, the choice between Trump and Clinton couldn’t be more clear.

I implore you to vote for Hillary Clinton and world stability. Donald Trump claims he is about change, but the risk that his type of change could threaten our democracy and the world is way too real to ignore. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for the most unstable world in our lifetimes and even our parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes. I implore you to vote for Hillary Clinton and a sane, albeit very imperfect world!

Gail Fitzer is founder and CEO of AWAKEN PR and a former reporter for Reuters, AP and The Hollywood Reporter.

NY ASSEMBLY SPEAKER SAYS UP TO HALF OF $120 MILLION CUT TO SERVICES FOR DISABLED RESTORED

sheldonsilverAssembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Thursday that a combination of federal and state funds have allowed for up to $60 million of a proposed $120 million cut in services for the developmentally disabled to be restored.

“We’re restoring some of the state money, which will have a Medicaid match as well,” Silver said. “The cut will not be 6 percent. The cut will be less than that. There will be a $60 million restoration as a result.”

Senate Majority Co-Leader Jeff Klein said the legislature was still doing everything it could do reverse the cuts and Co-Leader Dean Skelos said the issue of the budget cuts to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) was still “not closed.”

Gov. Cuomo proposed $120 million cut to OPWDD but the Assembly and Senate passed budgets that restored those cuts. The issue is one of several still unresolved despite Gov. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature announcing last night that they had reached a budget agreement in concept.

NY SEN. CARLUCCI REMAINS COMMITTED TO RESTORING CUTS TO SERVICES FOR DISABLED

carlucciNew York Sen. David Carlucci said Thursday he remains committed to restoring $120 million in budget cuts to nonprofit providers who provide vital services for New Yorkers with developmental disabilities as state legislators continue negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his proposed cutback to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) despite reaching a tentative budget agreement last night.

“While various components of this budget agreement continue to be ironed out, I continue to remain focused on fully restoring funding to nonprofit providers who service those with developmental disabilities,” Sen. Carlucci said in a statement.  “A $120 million dollar cut to the OPWDD budget is too steep a price to pay, and as Chairman of the Senate Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee I will do everything possible to avoid these devastating cuts.”

Both the Senate and Assembly recently passed budgets restoring the $120 million cut proposed by Gov. Cuomo, which when factoring in matching federal funds, actually constitute a $240 million reduction in services that the developmentally disabled depend upon for their safety, health and well-being. The nonprofit agencies facing a potential six percent cut in their budgets offer medical and clinical services, help developmentally disabled individuals find employment and live independently, and also provide support to families caring for disabled loved ones.

NY STATE BUDGET DEAL REACHED BUT STILL NO DECISION ON CUTS TO SERVICES FOR DISABLED

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature reached a $135 billion tentative budget deal Wednesday night but still left many issues unresolved including whether to implement Gov. Cuomo’s proposed $120 million cut to services for the developmentally disabled.

The office of Sen. David Carlucci, chairman of the Senate Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee, confirmed that no decision had been reached on whether to reverse or reduce the proposed cuts, which could jeopardize the safety, health and well-being of one of New York’s most vulnerable populations.

The NY State Senate and Assembly both passed budgets that restored the proposed $120 million in cuts to the budget of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. With matching federal funds at stake, the proposed $120 million reduction actually amounts to a $240 million cutback.

Nearly 15,000 people signed an online petition launched by Sen. Carlucci calling for the full restoration of cuts to OPWDD. A final decision on how much funding will be cut from OPWDD’s budget is now expected by Sunday. Gov. Cuomo reportedly indicated on Wednesday that the cut to OPWDD is likely to be less than the $120 million he proposed.

There is still time to tell Gov. Cuomo and your New York State Senators and Assembly Members to immediately STOP THE CUTS to services for the developmentally disabled!!!

http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact/GovernorContactForm.php

http://www.nysenate.gov/contact_form

http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/

CUOMO UNDER FIRE FOR $120 MILLION CUT TO SERVICES FOR DISABLED

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NEW YORK, March 15 – Shouting “Hell No, Cuomo,” and “Governor, Have Some Guts, Restore the Cuts,” several hundred people with developmental disabilities, their family members and the workers who care for them protested outside of Gov. Cuomo’s Manhattan office Friday against his proposed $120 million cut in funding to the nonprofit agencies that provide critical services to one of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

“I think we have to ask why is New York State launching an attack on people with disabilities, State Assembly Member Thomas Abinanti of Westchester County told the protesters. “The budget for the new New York reduces special ed, it blocks access to insurance provisions designed to help people with autism and it diminishes help for people with disabilities all to pay for income tax cuts for the comfortable, tax breaks for business and big subsidies for corporations. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s not New York.” State Assembly Member David Weprin also spoke at the rally.

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Gov. Cuomo has proposed cutting $120 million or six percent of the state budget allocated to nonprofit organizations that serve people with developmental disabilities. Because state Medicaid dollars are matched by the federal government, New York State’s $120 million cut would mean a total loss of $240 million in the coming fiscal year.

The Democratic majority in the State Assembly and the coalition that controls the State Senate have proposed restoring the full amount of money that the governor is seeking to cut in their own budgets that have already been passed. Organizers of the rally said a final decision on the proposed cuts is expected some time next week. The New York State budget for fiscal 2013-2014 must be passed by the Legislature by April 1.

Caretakers of children and adults with developmental disabilities and employees of the nonprofits that provide the funding to the caretakers expressed serious concern about losing their jobs. “The six percent cut is going to devastate our services, put people at risk and cost jobs, probably even mine” said Tracy Behling, who works for the Young Adult Institute (YAI) as a regional supervisor in Westchester, overseeing the staff and residents of 14 group homes. Medicaidrally3

Gov. Cuomo did not issue a direct response to Friday’s protest but when asked about the proposed cuts at a press conference on Thursday, he said, “We believe the reduction is manageable…the way we want to manage this reduction, which division of budget will do, is we want the reduction to be borne by the administration overhead and executive salaries rather than the cost of the direct care and direct supervision because many of these overheads, I’m telling you can be reduced. Many of the salaries are exorbitant, the corporate expenses are exorbitant and that’s where the reduction should be borne.”

But the nonprofit agencies that provide the services refuted the governor’s allegations, insisting that the $120 million cut would have a devastating impact on all sorts of programs and services that they provide to people with developmental disabilities in New York State. “It’s a disgrace to take away services for our most vulnerable population,” said Donna Long, executive director of the Grace Foundation of New York and the mother of a grown child with autism.

The six percent cut was triggered by a change in how the federal government plans to reimburse New York State for the care of people with developmental disabilities. Washington has alleged that New York has overbilled Medicaid for the institutional care of people with disabilities for over a decade, charging about $4,500 per person per day for people with developmental disabilities in institutional care while much of that care was deinstitutionalized, and much of this federal funding was redirected to other services for the developmentally disabled.

Still, the end result of the six percent cut to the budget of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), which provides the funding to the nonprofit agencies that pay the salaries of direct care workers for the developmentally disabled and also offer their clients a vast array of other services including recreational and work programs, is expected to jeopardize the safety, health and well-being of this extremely vulnerable population, protest organizers said.

Tell Gov. Cuomo and your New York State Senators and Assembly Members to immediately STOP THE CUTS to services for the developmentally disabled!!!

http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact/GovernorContactForm.php

http://www.nysenate.gov/contact_form

http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/