No tax cuts should be made until human service programs that were cut before taxes were raised are restored, according to a coalition of advocacy groups.
The Utah Human Services Coalition, comprised of more than 65 advocacy agencies concerned with the elderly, the low income, handicapped and mentally retarded, said during a press conference Tuesday that human service needs should be the Legislature's first priority this session."We've seen economic realities played out," said Shirley Weathers, Utah Issues. "First, programs were asked to tighten their budgets. Then they cut budgets, which meant they cut programs, and resisted funding for program growth. The last resort was the tax increase" of 1987.
Weathers said the coalition wants lawmakers to "celebrate the brightening economic picture by going back and fixing what was broken first."
Several program consumers and advocates spoke about specific programs that were not funded in either the governor's or the legislative analysts' budgets this session, and which will only be funded if the Executive Appropriations Committee approves building blocks. The total building block list from the Joint Social Services and Health Appropriations Subcommittee totaled $20.4 million, and the coalition said a minimum of $5.4 million is needed to meet basic human needs.
Projections released Tuesday indicate about $5.2 million in additional funds will be available - and that money would have to cover all building blocks, not just Social Services or Health.
Among programs cited as necessary were community services and family support programs for the handicapped so disabled people can stay in the community at great savings to taxpayers; maintenance of the state's supplement (currently $8.80 a month) for those who receive SSI; home- and community-based waivers so that Medicaid funds can be used to pay for services to the frail elderly who could not live in the community without the help; partial restoration of dental care for Medicaid-eligible adults; funding for environmental health programs and more intake workers to provide services, determine eligibility and process assistance.
Mental health in Utah is in a crisis state, according to Jim Ragan, Utah Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "We are using the state hospital for people who need custodial care. The long-term mentally ill are our No. 1 priority."
Ragan also cited the need for a treatment facility in the southwest portions of the state and pointed out that the state hospital is so understaffed it's in danger of losing its certification.
"It's inconceivable to think these needs are unmet in Utah," said Joe Duke-Rosati, Community Action Program. The defeat of the tax initiatives indicated that voters are willing to pay for critical human services, he said.
Coalition members said they would contact members of Executive Appropriations in the next two days to discuss the severity of the needs.