Speaking for "the poor, the dispossessed, the voiceless, children, the aged and those with handicaps," members of Utah's Human Services Coalition on Tuesday held a press conference to request $17.2 million for pressing human service and health problems.
"Too often in the legislative process, we fall into the pitfall of placing one group against another . . . or placing bricks and mortar off against individuals," said Rev. Max E. Glenn, Shared Ministry in Utah. "Legislators must take seriously this can't-wait list."Members of the Human Services Coalition, through a series of meetings, pared down more than $68 million of essential human service and health programs into the $17 million list. That list includes medical programs for people who live in extreme poverty and face life-threatening conditions, treatment of sexually abused children, home-delivered meals for homebound senior citizens, staff to cope with overwhelming foster care caseloads, critical-needs housing and cost-of-living adjustments for service providers and welfare recipients.
While dozens of advocates, including the chairmen of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, stood by, a handful of representatives spoke about different programs.
"Human services and health programs have been gutted . . . to meet other needs," said Ila Marie Goodey. "It has become accepted and, worse, expected."
Goodey, who had pulmonary polio as a child, said the system forces her to live in poverty so that she can qualify for the Medically Needy program, which pays for the oxygen she must have to live. Speaking from the wheelchair she uses for mobility, she said, "We need to ask how we will meet our moral obligations to each other, not whether we will."
Mark Smith, housing and transportation coordinator for the Independent Living Center in Salt Lake, spoke on behalf of 12,000 disabled Utahns who receive a $6.80 state-funded stipend with their Supplemental Security Income. Lawmakers are considering reducing that amount.
"It doesn't sound like a lot," he said, but when people live in poverty "it does mean a lot. That $6 can stretch to a lot of bus rides or buy bread and milk."
Geri Braegger, a foster parent, said the foster care program will have a "huge deficit" at the end of the year. "What is the price tag we place on a child's head?"
The money to fund the can't-wait list could come from removal of tax incentives to the ski industry, oil and gas amendments, removal of an exemption on steel, an increased cigarette tax and repeal of funding for the Heber Creeper, said Joe Duke-Rosati, Community Action Program.
"Look around you," he said. "We are not a poor society. We can afford to take care of our human needs."
Treatment for the needy
Ila Marie Goodey says she would receive better treatment were she a prisoner of war or a criminal.
Goodey, who had pulmonary polio as a child, said the system forces her to live in poverty so that she can qualify for the Medically Needy program, which pays for the oxygen she must have to live.
She and the other 7,000 people on the program "would rejoice to be treated as prisoners of war." The Geneva Conventions require medical treatment.
Treatment like she needs could not be withheld from a convicted criminal because it would be unconstitutional - cruel and unusual punishment, she said.