Most Social Service battles were fought on the budget front, and the question of victory or defeat depends on who you ask.
At least, that's the consensus of the department officials, advocates and citizens. The budget included some program growth, but a number of programs "went begging."The department got funds to hire 28 staffers to deal with federally mandated programs, but there's no money to hire 20 Office of Community Operations workers to keep up with an ever-growing caseload.
Family support programs for the handicapped, which provide services to keep the disabled in the community, received both an increased budget and a building block. But no funds were provided for programs designed to help the elderly remain in the community instead of going into nursing homes.
"That's a real disappointment," said Shauna O'Neil, director of Salt Lake County Aging. "We had hoped for money to keep these people in their homes. We can help them in the home for $3 a day, instead of (a nursing home's) $1,500 a month. That is both a more humane and rational use of funds."
Rod Betit, director of the agency that administers Medicaid and other low-income medical programs, saw the session as a year of growth.
Lawmakers restored crucial portions of Medicaid's adult dental program, raised by about $60 the amount of money a one-person Medicaid household is allowed to keep before "buying" into the program and replaced money "borrowed" last year from Utah's Medical Assistance Program.
"We got our legislation through, and received money to deal with federal mandates, plus take care of some problems," he said.
"We did reasonably well," said Norman G. Angus, director of Social Services. He listed a 3 percent public assistance grant increase, funding to care for the handicapped in the community, legislation to facilitate federal welfare reform and money for 50 beds for the chronically mentally ill in the community as big gains. But he expressed disappointment in the Legislature's failure to fund home-based services for the elderly and preventive substance abuse programs for kids.
"My major disappointment was that we needed more money for community programs. Our committee folks worked real hard and faced gut-wrenching issues. It was hard to not approve programs for folks in the community. I think they really worked hard."
"Though I feel good about the gains, " said Shirley Weathers, Utah Issues, "I'm somewhat disappointed. This year we had enough money to talk about tax cuts, but the Legislature made it clear that they would not think about funding services with it. We had some options we haven't had for a while. And I think that the voters showed, in defeating the tax initiatives, that they learned about the connection between taxes, revenues and funding services and they care about those services. I would have liked to see the Legislature respond to that."
Highlights of Medicaid and Social Services
- Partial restoration of the adult dental program, including permanent fillings, initial dentures, root canals and some hygiene.
- Funding to assist those who choose to care for a handicapped person at home. They also got a tax credit.
- Money for 50 beds for chronically mentally ill in community settings.
- More staff to facilitate federally mandated programs, like welfare reform.