If Utah's state government were a parent, it would be charged with child neglect, human services advocates said at a press conference Sunday.
Citing a long list of critical needs for handicapped children, senior citizens and the poor, the advocates pleaded with legislators to consider human needs when they convene in special session Wednesday."It's inconceivable to me that in a budget of over $3 billion we can't find $9 million to take care of these needs," said Rep. David M. Jones, D-Salt Lake. "It's inconceivable that we will spend $1 million to defend one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country and yet won't spend $9 million to take care of the children we already have."
Participating in the press conference were representatives of the 70-organization Human Services Coalition, the Utah Shared Ministry, legislators and mothers with handicapped children.
$12 million for most-critical areas
Utah Issues Director Bill Walsh said the proposed $9 million appropriation - with a $12 million federal match - would finance the most critical of $40 million in human services needs. If the programs are not funded during the special session, 3,000 people will lose Medicaid benefits, and other vital programs will be cut on July 1, he said.
Standing beside her wheelchair-bound toddler, Ann Yearsley said, "We want safe and proper care for our son in our own home."
She said her 2-year-old son, Bracken, was being treated at Primary Children's Hospital at a cost of $50,000 per month. At home, the care costs are much lower, but the Yearsleys can't afford the nursing help and therapy the child needs.
Debra Rawlingson said cuts in the state's early intervention program mean her 17-month-old son, Nicholas, who suffers frequent seizures, is receiving therapy only once a month instead of the three times a week his doctor prescribed.
"Why is there a limit on funding for something as important and precious as our children?" she asked.
Sen. Karen Shepherd, D-Salt Lake, wondered the same thing, saying, "The state has a primary responsibility to take care of its people first, and I believe we're not facing up to it."
With respect to health and human services, Shepherd said, the state is very much like a parent: "The first priority must be to take care of the children."
Parents who put any priority above their children are considered neglectful, Shepherd said, adding that the same can be said of the state.
She and Jones said they will push to have the human services appropriations added to the special session call for Wednesday. Lawmakers have been summoned back into session to consider state bonding programs and to clear up the language in the state's abortion law.
Counties support money plea
Among those supporting the plea for legislative consideration of the human services funding is the Utah Association of Counties, which passed a resolution urging lawmakers to find the money necessary to protect "Utah's most vulnerable citizens."
The Rev. Dr. Max E. Glenn, executive minister of the Shared Ministry, said, "We face a crisis in Utah because government services and programs that help people have been eroded over the years to the point that the entire system and the people it needs to serve is in jeopardy."
He said every human being deserves a basic subsistence, adequate work, food, clothing, shelter and a meaningful existence. "Because other considerations flow from these, we cannot rest until the fruit of God's earth is shared in a way that benefits His human family," the Rev. Glenn said.
`Can't wait list,' not wish list
Walsh said the proposed $9 million appropriation is not a wish list, but rather a "can't wait list." The money can be found, he said, even if it means dipping into the interest earned on the state's "rainy day fund."
The money would provide more funding to the Utah Medical Assistance Program, Medically Needy Services, AFDC-Medical Assistance, organ transplants for adults, service rate adjustments for residential providers, foster care, Early Intervention, Meals on Wheels, Youth Services, emergency shelter care, day training, specialized wheelchairs and a number of other programs.