Nobody thought balancing the budget with a massive state deficit was going to be easy, but I think few held out hope that our new governor would stick to his promise to protect the safety net for our most vulnerable residents. At a time when other states are decimating critical programs, our governor took a balanced and long term approach to addressing the budget crisis.
In the last biennium, budget cuts overwhelmingly targeted people who are the most poor and the most sick in Connecticut. Compounding cuts to those with the least resources is ineffective and costly to the state. What’s worse is that it doesn’t save any money – it simply shift costs to another area of the budget. When people cannot afford their medical bills, rent or medications – they cannot work, pay taxes, or contribute to the economy. Instead, they experience bankruptcy, relapse, job loss, and homelessness.
Our governor is also serious about addressing health care and other mounting costs related to people with chronic illnesses. He is expanding Medicaid waivers to serve more people in the community instead of institutions and changing the approach to managing Medicaid to one that stresses controlling costs by improving health outcomes and efficiencies. He understands the needs and issues related to people with serious mental illnesses – including that services can’t be cut without increasing costs in other deleterious places.
The last governor proposed substantial rescissions to community mental health services for both children and adults and major cuts to Medicaid and other lifelines knowing that Connecticut does not have the services or staff necessary to face current and increasing needs. This approach forces people into expensive crisis and institutional settings. We pay for this as taxpayers.
The budget agreement between the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is more responsible. It is our belief that this agreement related to the needs of vulnerable citizens will not be compromised in the future. It protects the long term fiscal health of the state against the public health and financial consequences of slash-and-burn cuts to the most in need. In the past, we have seen complete dismay at the prospect of any increases for the most wealthy – while at the same time proposing bigger, more devastating cuts for those on the edge of disaster.
Nationally, we grapple with policies that will further intensify the gap between the most rich and low-income families. At a time when hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks are being extended to the most wealthy while Congress considers savage cuts to Medicare and Medicaid – I am proud to live in a state that appears to be taking a more productive path.
By protecting our investments in health care, education, housing, and proven community based solutions, we will be well positioned when good times return.
For example, Connecticut is making significant investments in supportive and affordable housing. Supportive housing costs $54 per day and keeps people out of hospitalization and inpatient psychiatric care – which are over 20 times more costly. The state’s affordable housing crisis deters young professionals and families from remaining in or moving to Connecticut and exacerbates foreclosures and homelessness.
Although it may not seem so now, investing in long term solutions is smart fiscal policy for the future prosperity of our state.
Alicia Woodsby, Public Policy Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, CT (NAMI-CT), co-chair of the Keep the Promise Coalition.