This past week has been largely focused on state employees and the pending vote on the $1.6 billion concession package, but the state’s leading advocacy and human service organizations asked lawmakers Wednesday to turn their attention to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget cuts.
The $1.6 billion in cuts under consideration if a concession deal fails will impact a growing number of state residents who rely on state services, according to the letter the organizations sent lawmakers.
Jim Horan, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services, said Wednesday that the $1.6 billion budget cut was so big there was no way Malloy could avoid seriously impacting social services.
Horan applauded Malloy for his original budget proposal which he said balanced tax increases and spending cuts. However, he said the cuts proposed two weeks ago by the administration will “hurt not only the people served by the programs, but will damage the state’s economy.”
Horan said the cuts to job training and educational opportunities will hurt the state’s recovery.
The governor’s plan reduces by one-third state funding in 2013 for the youth employment program, which helps keep young people employed during the summer and keeps them off the street. It also reduces 50-70 percent to the state’s After School Program Grants, which will greatly limit the capacity of programs that currently provide help with homework, remedial assistance, and instruction in reading, math, and science to close to 5,000 students.
But Horan said he’s also concerned about the closure of the Stamford and Middletown Department of Social Services regional offices. He said since the Norwalk office was cut in a previous round of reductions, people in Stamford will have to travel to Danbury or Bridgeport to get services. That wouldn’t be so bad if the population accessing these services had their own vehicles, but many rely on public transportation, Horan said.
He said he understands the public is unsympathetic to concerns about transportation, but it’s a concern for those who serve those populations.
Also problematic is the early termination of extra SNAP eligibility workers, who were hired to reduce the disturbing backlog in processing applications for food assistance, along with other reductions in the Department of Social Services staff. SNAP is the state’s food assistance program and according to the DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby the department has seen an 81 percent increase in monthly SNAP cases.
Currently there are more than 350,000 residents statewide receiving assistance from the program. Horan said these cuts will only worsen already disturbing delays and make it harder for residents to get needed help.
In addition to reductions in training grants and the number of workers processing SNAP applications, the biggest change the governor’s budget makes is to the Medicaid program.
“The Governor’s revised budget proposal is carefully crafted to avoid, in most instances, crippling cuts in eligibility for programs that provide basic supports to Connecticut’s residents,” said Jane McNichol of the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut. “Importantly, Medicaid programs for families and for people who are elderly or disabled are, for the most part, maintained and the housing and homelessness safety net is largely intact.”
“But if the Governor’s plan is adopted as proposed,” she added, “access to these and other essential benefits will be further curtailed and programs designed to move families out of crisis and into meaningful employment will be severely limited.”
Malloy’s budget would impose a $25,000 asset test on Medicaid recipients and their families to save $30 million in the second year of the two-year budget.
The reason given as part of the budget document is that the caseload has increased 57 percent over the past 12 months due in part to the elimination of an asset test.
“We believe when we opened that program up to 18 and 19 year olds, who were full time students, were entering the program because we did not count their family income,” Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director has said . “We believe these are very reasonable limitations on the program that will not interfere with people‘s ability to get medical care.”
But the $30 million figure worries Horan and others, who see that number and think about all the individuals who won’t be receiving health care.
“If the state employees don’t approve the package there are some really problematic cuts included in this ‘Plan B’,” Horan said. “We just wanted lawmakers to know how problematic they are.”
He said it’s gotten easy to lose sight of what would happen if this plan becomes reality.
Lawmakers have said they will schedule a public hearing on some of the proposed cuts before Aug. 15, but no date has been set.