Disability advocates balk at non-profit's $500,000 in bonuses amidst cuts

FRESNO, Calif. — A top lawmaker and local advocates for the disabled say they are frustrated with a Fresno-based nonprofit's decision to give its staff $500,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses at a time when social service agencies are facing deep budget cuts.

The Central Valley Regional Center, a private agency serving 14,700 disabled people in the central San Joaquin Valley, decided late last month to make a "one-time salary adjustment" for its 350 employees, agency director Robert Riddick said Tuesday.

Riddick said the center had a surplus in its operations budget, and the board of directors felt employees deserved the extra pay because they may face furloughs later this year. The agency did not reduce services for the disabled to pay the bonuses, he said.

Nevertheless, state Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter, told Riddick in a letter sent Tuesday that the agency's decision to issue the bonuses "certainly raises a whole host of ethical and programmatic questions."

Riddick said his agency's 13-member board of directors on June 20 voted unanimously, with one abstention, to approve the bonuses, which average more than $1,400 apiece. He said the amount of each employee's bonus was based on salary and the number of years worked at the agency. The bonuses were at least 2.5% of each employee's salary, he said.

Riddick, who said he makes $160,000 a year and has worked at the center for 37 years, said he did not know what his own bonus was.

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