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Budget cuts will lead to more pain and suffering

So what does the future look like in Arizona now that the Legislature and the governor have made the deepest cuts in health and human services in 25 years in the last two legislative sessions? It is not a pretty picture.

The litany of pain and suffering is in the hundreds of thousands of persons. The litany of cuts includes destructive cuts in health care, behavioral health, human services and housing services. The list is long and overwhelming and economically destructive.

The Department of Economic Security (DES) saw its general fund allocation reduced by 33 percent — to $536 million from $808 million — as a result of legislative and gubernatorial actions. The list of DES programs severely affected includes elimination of general assistance for people with disabilities, imposition of an enrollment cap on subsidized child care through essentially a denial list where the program is withering away by attrition to about 20,000 children, and reductions and elimination of TANF cash assistance for thousands of families. Child protection and Adult Protective Services no longer investigate 100 percent of referrals, leaving thousands children and adults at risk.

Other deep and sustained safety-net cuts will have effects on domestic violence services, emergency crisis services, homeless prevention and shelter services, aging independent living services, respite care, vocational rehabilitation services, foster care, in-home services for CPS families, Healthy Families, substance-abuse treatment, and cuts to state in-home and prevention programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

At the Department of Health Services, state public health and behavioral health programs watched as their budgets were reduced by 47 percent — to $143 million from $270 million. Community health centers have essentially lost all of their state funding. Behavioral health programs are eliminating services to thousands of people who were receiving general mental health care and substance-abuse treatment. Other program cuts include vaccinations, food programs for seniors and eliminating more than 4,000 children from children’s rehabilitation services while imposing an enrollment cap on non-Medicaid eligible children.

Program cuts within the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System have affected 9,000
KidsCare parents through an enrollment cap on KidsCare, despite restoration of the statutory authority. Before federal health care reform legislation forced restoration of KidsCare and AHCCCS cuts to about 400,000 low-income people, Arizona’s public policy was to eliminate health care coverage for these vulnerable people with the intent to send them to emergency rooms. A total of 89,000 people classified as dual eligibles (Medicare and Medicaid) lost prescription drug support in the 2009 budget cuts.

These cuts were not necessary. There are plenty of alternatives to these cruel, inhumane cuts.
If we cannot persuade lawmakers and change their minds, we must change the people and elect new lawmakers and leadership who will protect children, families and vulnerable adults.

The primary and November elections will be a referendum on the future of our state. Arizona residents will determine the nature of our public policy and which values will prevail for our shared communal life.

— Timothy Schmaltz is coordinator of Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition (PAFCO), a nonpartisan alliance of social services, health, community service agencies, advocacy groups and faith-based associations.

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