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Conservative Legislators Aren’t Convinced Of Public Need

Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition (PAFCo) (of which Arizona Bridge to Independent Living is a member) sponsored a rally April 10 to advocate for sensible and responsible state budgeting for fiscal 2004. Hundreds of people crowded the east lawn of the Capitol to encourage legislators to stop cutting vital funding for social service programs, education and health care.

The message was loud and clear … no more funding cuts and budget balancing on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. But, is this message being heard≠ I’m not so sure! A recent article in The Arizona Republic discussed the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), Arizona’s version of Medicaid. One legislator described the program as, “an enormous vacuum that is sucking up dollars.”

Of course, AHCCCS is the same program that, since the passage of proposition 204 in 2000, allows a family of four that earns $18,000 per year (or 100 per cent of the federal poverty level) to be eligible for AHCCCS health coverage. To me, that seems like a reasonable threshold for public health care assistance. The last I checked, $18,000 per year for a family of four is not exactly what I’d call, “living high off the hog!”

Unfortunately, many conservative legislators feel this type of public assistance is too generous. That is why we need to let them know they are wrong and out of touch with what is right for a civilized society.

Another conservative legislator, Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Dist. 18, had this to say about the AHCCCS program. “There is so much fraud and abuse in this program. This whole thing is out of control. We all know that.”

Well, I’m not sure who Mr. Pearce is referring to when he says, “we all,” but maybe it’s the thousands of low income, economically disadvantaged people who are currently on the system and who have no other alternative … maybe it’s the single moms and the young kids and the people with disabilities who need the important benefits provided by AHCCCS to make it day-to-day.

This does not sound like fraud to me. It sounds like a state taking care of its most vulnerable people. AHCCCS enrollment is nearing 1 million Arizona citizens. Essentially, one of every five people in Arizona is eligible for AHCCCS. Is it preposterous that we would ask four-fifths of the state’s population to support the health and social service needs of an economically disadvantaged one-fifth≠ I do not think so, but unfortunately many conservative legislators feel it is an unreasonable burden on Arizona taxpayers. In fact, Mr. Pearce continued by saying that, “some could get off the program, but why should they” when their care is paid for≠ He obviously believes that people choose to be poor, unhealthy, aged and disabled.

Mr. Pearce is not alone in his ideology toward publicly financed health and social services programs. Many of his conservative colleagues feel the same way. It is for this exact reason that we must continue voicing our message…no more cuts to health and social services. Let your voice be heard!

Phil Pangrazio is the executive director of the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL), a private, nonprofit corporation that provides services to persons with disabilities. Its Web site is www.abil.org

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