Saturday, September 26, 2009

Michigan disability community fears cuts to Dept. of Human Services

From the Niles Daily Star in Michigan:

As Michigan lawmakers continue to work toward a finalized budget for the 2010 fiscal year, their efforts are being met with concern by the Department of Human Services and related organizations across the state.

Current budget proposals are taking into consideration a $2.8 billion deficit making significant cuts unavoidable.

For the Department of Human Services, which operates the state’s public welfare system as well as programs and services to children, adults, the disabled, elderly and families in need – that means a proposed cut of $169 million to its overall budget.

“These cuts are too large, too deep, too damaging, and undermine the safety net needed to protect so many vulnerable children, adults and families,” Ismael Ahmed, DHS director said in a statement.

The cut in funding could reduce the amount of foster care workers and the staff that help residents of the state dealing with unemployment or needing help with their Medicaid in any of the department’s 100 offices throughout the state, including Berrien County.

The deadline is nearing on an agreed upon budget and there has even been talk of an extension to provide funding for an additional month in order to avoid a government shut down.

Ahmed and the DHS said that cuts to Human Services programs could include eliminating such programs as aid to low-income parents for childcare, the Early Childhood Investment Corp. and its programs for foster school readiness for young children, a cut per person in the Family Independence Program that provides assistance to families for living expenses including rent and utilities and a reduction in the State Disability Assistance program grant.

“Every single one of the proposed cuts will hurt somebody,” Ahmed said. “No one knows better about hurting than the people coming to our Michigan Department of Human Services offices.”

In Michigan, lawmakers on both sides of the political line have been warning against deep, but necessary cuts since budget planning began. Many are reiterating those warnings even in the face of cuts such as these, trying to assure residents that the consequences of reductions in funding were not ignored but weighed heavily in the decision making process.

“I think any time that you look at any particular line item in the budget you have to dig deep into the impact,” Representative John Proos said Monday.

“One of the changes I would like to see is a customized plan for each regional DHS office,” said State Representative Sharon Tyler.

“Not every office utilizes every program available. Funding should be distributed in the most efficient manner possible to help fund only the programs each office needs and uses. A one size fits all approach simply does not work and we must take that into account.”

Tyler also said she hoped that any DHS programs that are matched by federal funds weren’t cut, because “they give us the best value for our dollars.”

Proos agreed, saying that it was important for lawmakers to “understand from a monetary aspect” the significance of those matching funds.

“What is true, though,” he said, is the fact that “overspending in the state” exists.
“There really isn’t going to be a line item that is spared,” Proos continued. And he said that lawmakers are feeling the frustration.

“I don’t think any one of us can’t find areas where we don’t want to see cuts… It’s not an easy time in Michigan and our budget is strained.”

Still, nonprofit organizations and the DHS are urging lawmakers to reconsider the figures that would affect their financial future at a time when they say their own numbers of those in need of their services are rising.

Even with an undeniable increase in need, it may just not be enough to spare human services programs across the state from less funding come October.

“Right now we have to look out for each other as best as we can,” Tyler said. “I’ve met with many of these departments and held numerous office hours to listen to the concerns of staff and citizens. The legislature is working towards a certain dollar amount but nothing is certain yet.”