At a time when the yearly Utah budget scramble has been further muddled by a revenue shortfall, a compelling case can be made for giving more, not less, funding to human service programs.
To their credit, the members of the Legislature's Human Services and Health Appropriations Subcommittee have not only added a crucial $11 million to the "bottom-line" amount of the legislative fiscal analyst, they refused to make recommended cuts despite the revenue shortfall.This seemingly stubborn stance can be justified as an absolute necessity. Without the extra $11 million, some basic support for Utah's most unfortunate citizens would be lost.
In the budget process of the past 10 years or so, human services have been regularly victimized. Spending has been held flat and lids put on program funds. At the same time, more people have been added to the programs and inflation has eroded the value of the money.
Despite the warning that the state's safety net may collapse in some cases if the extra $11 million is not found, the Executive Appropriations Committee this week ordered all budgets to be based on the latest revenue projections. This would seem to leave the human services recommendation high and dry.
Unfortunately, there is an attitude among some Utahns - including some in the Legislature - that sees human services as disposable programs, the people involved as "welfare bums" and government help as unnecessary.
Even if the committee could prevail and the additional $11 million would remain - an unlikely prospect at this point - many programs must still be reduced. This is because of growing numbers of people who must be helped in certain programs.
Without the $11 million, the cutbacks will be cruel for people already asked to get by way below the poverty line. For the disabled, it is another handicap added to the physical ones.
Some of the shrinkage imposed on human services can be extremely short-sighted. There may be little understanding of the actual effect of cutting budget "numbers."
For example, in an effort to save $100,000, lawmakers may cut programs that enable disabled people to function in an independent environment. Without that support, they can end up in nursing homes at 10 times the previous cost to the state.
Last year, the Legislature short-changed human services so badly that lawmakers were forced to agree later to an $8 million supplemental pledge.
One would think they would have learned from that experience, but the train seems to be on the same track again - with a disastrous crash awaiting at the end of the line.
Human services must be funded at an adequate level. The state cannot simply turn its back on its most helpless and needy citizens.