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Fasano Aide Speaks at Disability Rights Florida Conference

Monday, July 18, 2011

By Carl Orth, The Suncoast News

Despite a scare this spring over short-lived pay cuts in state funding, participants at a Disability Rights Florida conference last week appeared upbeat and bullish to Greg Giordano.

Giordano, chief legislative assistant to state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was the opening speaker for the 2011 statewide staff training event in Tampa.

Before becoming Fasano's aide in 1994, Giordano worked many years on the staff of what was then called ARC Pasco. Now known as the Center for Independence, the nonprofit organization helps people with developmental disabilities learn everyday living skills.

"One of the best parts was working with people," Giordano recalled about his days at ARC.

One of the hardest decisions he ever made concerned leaving ARC Pasco, Giordano told the DRF audience. His wife Nancy convinced him he could work on a much bigger stage on behalf of disability rights as a legislative assistant.

When Fasano first started his public servant career as a rookie state representative in 1994, one of his first acts was to help secure funding for group homes for ARC.

The mood today among many public officials has shifted toward budget cutting because of lower property tax revenue after the recession.

Gov. Rick Scott in March ordered 15 percent emergency pay cuts for many care providers at groups serving the disabled. Many leaders of local service agencies, including the Red Apple School and AFIRE, were alarmed. A reprieve came in April, though, and funding was restored.

"I didn't know what to expect" about the mood among DRF participants, Giordano said later. "Social services have taken some hard hits."

Yet the DRF audience appeared "very upbeat" to Giordano. Some participants made suggestions for better ways to serve people with disabilities. A lot of discussion revolved around convincing employers of the benefits of hiring the disabled.

"Bottom line, Disability Rights Florida is a key player," Giordano said.

The federally mandated agency gets its funding from the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Social Security Administration, Giordano explained.

As part of the nationally mandated Protection and Advocacy System, DRF gets federal funds for programs to advocate for people with developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, mental illness, Social Security beneficiaries and many more.

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