Thursday, December 15, 2011

Babies, veterans and frail elderly all hit by Maine Governor's service cuts

Day One of Hearings on Maine DHHS Cuts - December 14, 2011

Maine Governor LePage has proposed very large cuts (about $220 million) to programs in the Department of Health & Human Services, which he says must be made immediately due to "miscalculations" in the budget passed just months ago, and reduced funding from the federal government. Almost none of the overruns are due to new people signing up for services. 

Hearings are being held this week on the proposal, and we are still trying to get a clear picture from the Administration as to the cause of the shortfall and the impact of these proposals.

I am not one to engage in exaggeration.  As a lawyer I try to be very precise and factual with the statements I make.  I find this plan to cut services shocking.  In all my many years of service in the Legislature, I have never seen anyone propose such cuts, which will be devastating to thousands of our neighbors and family members. Here are just a few of the impacts, from information provided at the hearing held today.  Here is a link to some of the testimony. You can listen in on the hearings and work sessions here.
  • The Maine Veterans' Homes will have to permanently close all 6 of its assisted living units, serving 178 veterans.  Where will they go? Why aren't we taking care of our155,000 veterans?
  •  More than 6,000 people will be either homeless, put into nursing homes, or dumped on families without any services or care.  These are people who cannot live on their own because they are frail elderly (over 4200) or seriously disabled, including people with mental illness. Robert Small of Hallowell, a former Hall-Dale coach and teacher, provided written testimony that because of several strokes he cannot live on his own.  Is this how we treat the teachers of our children?
  • 20,000 seniors will lose all of the help they get paying for copays, premiums and  prescription drugs that aren't covered by Medicare (for example because of the famous "donut hole.") Seniors on average take 5 medicines a day according to AARP's testimony.  52,000 people total will lose some or all of help with Medicare and/or prescription drug costs.  Do you think some elderly could die if they cannot pay for their drugs? I do.
  •  7,000 young adults, ages 19-20, will lose their health care. 29,000 working parents will lose health care.  Child care vouchers will be cut in half.  How can a single mom work if she has no child care for her toddler?  Would you allow her to bring her child to your business to hang out during her work hours? Head Start funding is to be eliminated, too.
  • More than 4,000 jobs will be lost at a time when Maine and the US already suffer from long term high unemployment.  Where will these productive Maine workers be able to get a job?  
  • Even though physical therapy is far, far cheaper than surgery, PT will be cut. How will that save money? How will someone get back to work and not be a drain on our social services if they can't get physical therapy? How does this make sense?
This is just a snapshot of a few of the impacts of the proposed cuts.  Some of the proposals are not legal (the federal government rejected the Governor's request for a waiver a few months ago to stop the prescription drug assistance).  Other cuts will costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal matching funds - for some programs we get an almost 2 to 1 match from the feds.  One of the cuts actually transfers thousands of dollars from these safety net services to the "Rainy Day Fund" - for what?  A future slush fund? One of the cuts takes money from the tobacco settlement that is used to fund prevention - which works - and puts that money in the general fund.
There has to be a better way to run this state, and I am not willing to support this poorly thought out proposal when there are alternatives.  I want to be part of the solution and am ready to roll my sleeves up to figure out the best plan.  But I am not willing to mortgage our future by hurting our children, nor treat our elderly and our veterans and people who have disabilities like they are worthless.  That is what the Governor's cuts do.    

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