By Israel Bayer, Amanda Waldroupe and Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writers
Only weeks after Gov. Ted Kulongoski released his budget — the leveling off a $577 million deficit — the Dear John letters went in the mail: Thousands of letters informing the elderly, disabled, the sick and the poor that the state can no longer support the assistance they receive for basic needs.
The state Department of Human Services, which oversees assistance to the state’s most vulnerable populations, is absorbing well over $158 million dollars of this budget gap. Calling them cuts seems inadequate to describe the damage done. The governor’s reductions, which by law have to be across the board, also mean a reduction in the amount of federal funds leveraged because of state spending. In the end, what is cut at the state level is often only the tip of the iceberg in what is lost to the program.
In this edition, Street Roots is highlighting 15 state programs affected, and in some cases completely dismantled — most of them within the Department of Human Services, but housing as well. The programs include alcohol and drug treatment, homeless assistance programs, and an entire system working with seniors and people with disabilities. The cuts are also completely turning what’s left of a mental health system upside down, not to mention the slashing of the state’s HIV, sexually transmitted disease and tuberculosis programs.
What we’re charting here is only a portion of the cuts affecting Oregon’s poor. There are many others, but this gives an overview of the catastrophic impact these decisions will have on our neighbors and neighborhoods. The information on the programs and the impact are taken directly from the state’s matrix on the budget cuts, and unless specifically noted, include both the cuts from the state General Fund as well as the losses in federal and “other” funding for this fiscal year. Agencies are operating under these cuts now as the majority of these budgets went into effect July 1.
As tough as these current economic challenges are, analysts project a $2.5 billion dollar gap in the coming fiscal year. It is hoped that with the information presented on pages 8 and 9, you will better understand what this is costing us, and what will be at stake next year when we can expect even more reductions in services to those in need, barring intervention.
In addition to the programs we’ve highlighted here, there are many more, not the least of which are reduced support for educating our children and our corrections network.
By year’s end, more than 60,000 people in Oregon will have exhausted their unemployment benefits. Without the prospect of gainful employment, many will be forced into the safety net of the programs listed above. They may be family, friends or neighbors to you. They may be you.
Seniors and People with Disabilities Division
Medicaid Personal Care Program, $2,375,705 cut: This and other in-home assistance are getting relief from $17 million in emergency funding from the state through June, 2011.
Nearly 1,200 Oregonians (882 aged and physically disabled clients and 292 developmentally disabled clients) receive this service at an average cost of $250 monthly. Effective Aug. 1.
Impact: Reduction would eliminate in-home personal care services that help maintain independence and dignity, such as bathing, eating, dressing and mobility.
In Home Care Program, $25,708,247 cut: Provides seniors with personal assistance, such as food preparation, housekeeping, shopping, etc. Effective Oct. 1: This and other in-home assistance programs are getting relief from $17 million in emergency funding from the state through June, 2011.
Impact: The program will be reduced by 75 percent. An estimated 10,500 seniors will lose personal assistance services, and may no longer be able to live independently and need to move to nursing facilities or other care settings.
“Regarding Oregon Project Independence, if you have a client who is in their 80s who needs help with housekeeping a few hours a month — people who live independent, want to and need a little bit of help. If you take away that help, at some point soon they’re going to end up in a nursing home. It costs taxpayers a lot less to pay for the couple of hundred a month to pay for in home than it does the $5,000 to $7,000 a month in a nursing home.
I hope taxpayers and the public understand. The scary thing about it is we all know somebody who is a senior citizen. And we probably all have tangential connections with someone with a disability, or a child with autism. These cuts are going to hit home in a way that really everybody is going to feel.”
— Dave Austin, Multnomah County Department of Human Services Continue reading