Citizen Staff Writer
When budgets are cut, it’s easy to focus on the dollars and cents and forget that real people are affected.
That may explain why the state Legislature is moving ahead with cuts to the state Department of Economic Security – cuts that will deeply affect the lives of developmentally and mentally disabled people.
Even if legislators brush aside the human toll and look only at the finances, these are cuts that should be reversed. In the long run, Arizona taxpayers will end up spending far more if the DES budget is cut than if spending levels are maintained.
Legislators are in an unenviable position, with state spending needing to be cut by at least $3 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Some of the cuts could be avoided if lawmakers embraced a proposal by Gov. Jan Brewer to ask voters for a temporary tax increase.
Brewer seems to have backed away from the idea, but it makes sense. The alternative is eviscerating cuts that would return crucial state services to levels not seem in decades.
That’s what DES is facing.
The current budget proposal would cut about $41 million from state-funded disability programs and an additional $50 million to $60 million for long-term care for the most severely disabled.
And those cuts would come on top of a 10 percent cut to DES to balance the current year’s budget.
In a story published Tuesday in the Tucson Citizen, Jim Walsh of The Arizona Republic wrote about how the cuts would hurt 2-year-old Gabriel Saucedo, who was born without hands. With the help of a therapist from a state-funded program, the boy has learned how to feed himself, fasten his shoes and hold a pencil in his mouth to draw.
Without the program, Gabriel and 2,000 other children would require full-time care for the rest of their lives. That’s not only unconscionable, it would be a far larger financial burden for taxpayers than eliminating the proposed cuts.
One Arizonan who works with disabled residents says the cuts were proposed because his clients are an easy target.
“I believe it was a convenient decision . . . to make because it’s a vulnerable population and they can’t speak for themselves,” said Randy Gray, president and CEO of Marc Center in Mesa.
Gray said the proposed cuts would revert “our entire system of quality care back to the early 1970s.”
That must not be allowed to happen. The state must stand up for the most needy among us – even in the toughest of times. The cuts to DES must be re-evaluated.
If we can’t look out for the most vulnerable, who is safe?
The proposed cuts may save a little money now, but
long-term costs for
lifetime care would be far higher.