Things are tough in Windsor. Kate Lubin, a caseworker for town social services, says she fielded 65 phone calls last month alone — 20 more than usual — asking for energy assistance. Many of the callers are first-timers.
Things are tough in Middletown, too, where people started asking for fuel assistance in September. Things aren't so rosy in Hartford, either, where overburdened food pantries report new faces — people who never expected to visit a food pantry except, maybe, as a donor.
Things are tough all over, which makes Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposed budget that much more the bitter pill. Why is it, in a recession, do we go for the vulnerable? Because they don't vote? Because the economy is taking water, and there's just no room for them in the lifeboat?
Overall, the governor's proposed cuts aren't as deep as the ones she suggested in December, but her target remains children, youth and families. Call this Draconian Lite.
According to Connecticut Voices for Children, the new budget proposals would amount to nearly $75 million in cuts for early child care, health and other services for the young and their families. That includes money the governor didn't allow to be spent in certain social services programs. Sadly, says executive director Jamey Bell, far too many of the slightly mitigated cuts are "one-time revenues and budget gimmicks" such as federal stimulus funds and moving money between state accounts.
"We can balance the budget in a way that doesn't harm kids," Bell said. But then, as Bell says, if you need to cut back, the most obvious — and, I would add, least inspired — target is the people who rely heavily and publicly on their government: the young, the old, the sick. Quietly, and less visibly, the state's businesses rely on the government, too, but we don't often suggest they push back from the government teat, do we?
Why not instead, as suggests Connecticut Voices, close corporate tax loopholes, postpone a reduction in the estate tax and raise the income tax of the wealthy? Why not — just once — pick on someone your own size?
Under the governor's proposed budget, funds to the state's syringe exchange and AIDS prevention services would be cut by 30 percent, according to the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition. That takes AIDS services back to 1997's funding level, while the syringe exchange cuts reach all the way back to '95.
The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the state has doubled since then.
In addition, the governor is once again eyeing the ironically named Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. The executive director, Teresa C. Younger, calls this the "year of never boring moments." Fortunately for them, the commission has a nonprofit arm, the Foundation for Connecticut Women, but that's kind of like having bake sales to support schools, isn't it? Imagine if all state agencies had to raise their own funds.
As Patricia Wrice at Operation Fuel says year after year, something like energy assistance can lift a family so that family can afford decent meals. Feed a child right (and provide adequate health care) and that child stands a much greater chance of participating in school. That child gets an education and enters the workforce and becomes a building block in a strong society. It's a simple equation, if you take the long view.
Managing for the short term works only in the short term, and it only works for a few.
An $11.5 million cut to Care4Kids child care program, increased premiums for children enrolled in the state HUSKY health insurance, and other changes to that state health insurance program are pushing the brass ring farther outside the reach of Connecticut's families. Push that ring out far enough, and a family's best hope for financial solvency is winning the lottery. Fortunately for them, the governor has proposed adding keno, so maybe they'll hit big.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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