It was popularly projected that the 1991 legislative session would be "human services' year."
It appears it will at least be a year people who are poor, blind, disabled, young or elderly will never forget.Fiscal projections were disappointing, so Executive Appropriations ordered some cuts.
Here are just a few of the expected results:
- Members of the Human Services and Health Appropriations Subcommittee said that $11.4 million was needed above the amount suggested by legislative fiscal analysts. Instead, budgets will be reduced.
- People with disabilities, who live well below poverty guidelines, will lose a $6 supplement. For some, it is the month's bus rides or milk and eggs.
- Welfare grants are expected to be cut by 6.9 percent. Even by doubling its income, the average Utah family on welfare would still be poor by federal standards.
- Waiting lists for elderly, frail people who need home-delivered meals and services will continue to grow.
- Families that qualify for welfare grants (about 3,000 of them) but choose to accept only the medical benefits to which they're entitled, will lose that option.
If there's a medical problem, the family will have to sign up for the welfare grant in order to receive the medical assistance. Utah will still pay. But because of the budget "cut," it will end up paying more.
- Nursing homes were promised a study of the rates they are paid. It never happened, and facility operators say they will sue.
- Treatment for troubled children will continue to be inadequate and so will treatment for child victims of sexual abuse.
- The Medically Needy program, which serves low-income people with life-threatening medical conditions, will be slashed. Income eligibility will also be lowered.
- Rural crisis nurseries will close.
- The General Assistance Emergency Work Program and the General Assistance Self-Sufficiency Program, which help 2,000 Utahns, will probably be dropped.
- Treatment of low-income mentally ill people will be reduced.
Funding for programs to help homeless people become self-sufficient seems to be on the chopping block. There's no doubt that Utah will continue to operate homeless shelters, thanks mostly to state income tax check-off donations.
But programs that help people put their lives together are in serious jeopardy. And programs that try to intervene before someone becomes homeless are, too, even though preventing a problem is more cost-effective than trying to help afterwards.
Utah - and its lawmakers and officials - talk a lot about economic development. Yet studies by a number of well-respected and conservative foundations have repeatedly indicated that an community's investment in people is a necessary, even crucial part of any economic development program.
For some reason, programs like Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children, guaranteed to bring in three federal dollars for every state dollar spent, aren't considered part of that development.
I can't think of many investments that guarantee that rate of return. The money goes into the state's economy at all levels. It is spent for rent and food and clothing and medical care.
While pleading poverty, Utah has managed to consider making a $10 million loan to a corporation. It has tacked $2 million to renovate theaters onto a bill to fund Salt Palace renovations.
I share a lot of traits with Utah lawmakers. I love theaters and the arts. I'm thrilled when tourists spend money in Utah. But I also like people.
I believe the education and well-being of our citizens is important. I have spent the past three years writing about people who lead often-sad, frustrating lives.
And I believe that people - particularly children who can't care for themselves - should be a priority. Thousands of children will be hurt by the lack of human-service funding.
One lawmaker suggested the problem is caused by federal mandates, which must be funded.
No one argues that mandates take away a lot of the state's discretion on how to spend money. But it is just as hard to argue that the programs aren't important. Who can oppose medical care for sick children in low-income families? Or prenatal care for poor women?
Blaming mandates seems to imply that the money would have been put into other human needs. Looking at budget decisions for the past few years, that's not likely.
Utah has developed a trend: Programs in all areas are cut, based on projections. Then there's a surplus, which is only used for one-time projects. Lawmakers are unwilling to eliminate certain tax breaks.
And the so-called "Rainy Day Fund"? It can, in the words of one member of the Executive Appropriations Committee, only be used in a "desperate" situation.
Ila Marie Goodey, who may lose the oxygen that keeps her alive, feels desperate. So do thousands of others. (Ironically, this Legislature honored her early in the session as recipient of a national volunteer award.)
I have a suggestion: Someone hand that lawmaker an umbrella.