Utahns shouldn't have to go hungry, but money isn't available to beef up state programs that assist the needy, Gov. Norm Bangerter said.
"We have set a budget. It's a minimal budget," the governor said during his monthly televised press conference Thursday on KUED Channel 7. "Everybody who got money needs more money. I don't have more money."Bangerter said he won't allow the issue to be discussed during the upcoming special session set for April 17. The governor sets the agenda for all special sessions. Topics will be limited to agreeing on a bonding program for the state, which lawmakers failed to do before they adjourned Feb. 27, and making technical changes in Utah's new restrictive abortion law.
"I'm not prepared to say I will go in and put $10 million in there, because I don't have it," the governor said, suggesting that the Department of Human Services might be able to shift funds from other programs.
"Human Services is trying to decide what to cut now," said Bill Walsh, member of the Human Services Coalition and director of Utah Issues. "I don't believe there's room to reduce or eliminate existing programs. There are some very pressing needs. We've listed unfunded needs and then tried to squeeze them as much as we could. We've worked very hard to be responsible; we've squeezed $40 million in justifiable needs down to just under $10 million."
The governor said the public, too, has a responsibility to help feed the needy. "The public can do things we can't do in government. We don't want anyone to go hungry," Bangerter said, adding that he doesn't think anybody has to despite a recent study that showed widespread hunger among Utahns, especially children.
Advocates for those with human service needs were disappointed by the governor's decision to close the session to human services.
About 20 directors of agencies that receive United Way funds signed a petition that was mailed to elected officials last week. "We do our part, and we ask you to meet the public sector's social obligations," it said.
"We hope the governor won't just say `no' outright," said Steve Johnson, director of Utahns Against Hunger, "but that he will recognize the problem and work with community groups to try to find solutions. Our avenues of what we can do as advocates are limited as we try to deal with the crisis before July (when the new budget takes effect). We need him to help us. He was helpful last summer, and a lot of us are hoping we can strike the same sort of dialogue."
Johnson said hunger is not just a state problem; his agency believes that effective use of federal programs will help.
Walsh said that caring for people is everyone's responsibility. "Meeting the needs of hungry people is a multilevel responsibility, and I think the government carries most of the burden. I think the private and religious sectors do an awful lot. When human services programs are cut back, that just ups the ante on the hunger side."
But some reasons for hunger are out of the government's hands, according to Bangerter, who cited neglect as an example. "There's a lot of neglect which we can't totally solve," he said.