Those who benefit from state programs, and the staff of both the Social Service and Health departments may all have a better idea of what to expect in the way of funding for fiscal 1990, now that the Joint Health and Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee has listed its priorities.
Until the fiscal projections for state revenue come in, though, everyone's still drawing pictures in the sand.The list of priorities totals about $5.5 million in state money.
(Like everyone else, I've had to deal with inflation. Last week, I caused some of my own by inadvertently adding an extra zero to a number. The human needs which were presented to the committee totaled just over $10 million in state funds, not $100 million.)
Another several million dollars in human need was put on the list but never given a priority ranking.
I think it's safe to say that no one is exactly jumping for joy, although some are much happier than others. For every program for which they will request funding, another was left out.
Officials in the Social Services Department and the Health Department pretty much got their wishes when they met with the chairmen of the committee to make a list of priorities for the committee's perusal.
The ranked list is heavier on the administrative, rather than the service side.
I've received a number of complaints from people who attended the hearings faithfully three days a week, listening and contributing to the wealth of information presented. Few of them called to tell me they were pleased with the process.
The process may, in the end, have weakened the result.
Last Thursday, after a several-hours-long meeting, members of the committee voted, in effect, to put an end to an endless proceeding. I can't honestly say I blamed them, but a lot of people were disappointed.
Lawmakers had gone through hours and hours of heart-wrenching testimony. They were told they had to fund a number of programs because of federal mandate, regardless of how important those seemed compared to all the other needs.
They went through hundreds of pages of information provided by fiscal analysts and department officials, as well as hand-outs from many advocacy and special-interest groups.
They asked for answers and clarifications. Those had to be weighed against programs and services each lawmaker personally held dear - or didn't like.
Building blocks were not the main event. They were discussed after supplementals and an endless stream of intent language (which has the force of law unless it conflicts with existing statutes). Even the panelists finally protested. Building blocks consumed about half an hour.
The result of all the work was anticlimactic. There were few changes in the chairmen's proposed listing of priorities.
Money to reduce the spend-down in the Medically Needy program was added to the list, along with money for home and community-based waivers to help maintain in the community those people who are in immediate danger of having to enter nursing homes. But they were placed near the bottom of the list, so it's hard to say if they'll be funded.
Last week, I wrote that the panelists had taken tentative votes as they went along. I'm not sure why they bothered. It was not a weeding process.
They "tentatively approved" all building blocks, knowing they'd have to make some decisions later. They put it off. When they ran out of time, they just took what they had and called it a day.
They might have reached the same conclusions anyway. It may not matter. But I know that a lot of people who testified walked away feeling they'd wasted their time. Even the lawmakers questioned their work.
No one's complaining about the programs that were given priority. They're important and what matters most depends on which candle is burning brightest in your life when you consider them.
Some of the programs are apt to be funded and that's good news for human services. Others won't be - or will receive reduced funds.
What made it onto the list? (Remember, making the list doesn't mean the money will be there; everything depends on the fiscal projections.) A mixture of administrative and service-oriented projects for both departments.
Here are a few highlights from the top of the list, with either full or partial funding:
Nursing home growth, an increased general assistance caseload, more surveyors in the Health Department, funds for family support and community services for the handicapped, start-up money to help at-risk youth, vaccinations, funds to buy AZT for AIDS patients, somewhat increased staffing at the State Hospital, restoration of adult dental for Medicaid patients.
There are more. Lots more. But without those projections, we're still talking about sand-pictures.