GUEST EDITORIAL: Budget reduction would cut local safety nets for families most in needIn every corner of the state, Wisconsin’s families are hurting. As businesses close or lay off workers, employees who have been working for years suddenly find themselves looking for jobs that aren’t there.
By: By Mark D. O’Connell, executive director Wisconsin Counties Association, Superior Telegram
In every corner of the state, Wisconsin’s families are hurting.
As businesses close or lay off workers, employees who have been working for years suddenly find themselves looking for jobs that aren’t there.
Every night at the dinner table, the fears grow and the questions mount. How will we pay our daily bills? What about health insurance and medical care? Where do we get the food to keep our kids from going hungry?
Friends, churches and other charities can offer a temporary solution. But when generosity wears thin, families in need ultimately turn to their local county human services department — because in Wisconsin, counties are the state’s safety net.
For many families, applying for public aid is an unthinkable moment. Parents who have worked all their lives and paid their taxes now find themselves for the first, and probably only, time in their lives asking for help. But they’re desperate.
By the time most families come to the county for help, they’re already in trouble. But if lawmakers adopt Gov. Doyle’s proposed cuts to programs that help these families, these families’ troubles will become a cataclysm. Such cuts would compound the crisis these families are facing by increasing waiting times and limiting access to vital services.
The governor’s budget for the next two years cuts more than $60 million from programs that help connect families to food and medical assistance programs, provide mental health care for individuals in crisis, and prevent child abuse and neglect.
These are real cuts, actual reductions from what the state is paying this year. And they come at a time when many counties are seeing double-digit increases in demands for these basic services to help Wisconsin families.
Wisconsin’s counties aren’t asking for an increase in state funding to keep pace with the growing demand. Instead, county leaders are only asking that these specific programs be funded at current levels for the next two years.
Because county leaders understand how tight the state’s finances are, they have accepted the governor’s 1 percent across-the-board cuts to a host of programs. But the proposed $60 million in human service cuts are over and above those 1 percent cuts.
The proposed cuts will hit hardest individuals who need our help most during the recession: parents struggling to pay bills, adults coping with mental health problems, and families trying to keep the stress of joblessness from turning into abuse.
The latest budget numbers — which show the state’s deficit is $1.6 billion more than when Gov. Doyle introduced his budget in February — are even more troubling. Instead of restoring funds to help Wisconsin’s most vulnerable residents, lawmakers and the governor are now contemplating deeper cuts. This would be a terrible mistake.
There are no easy answers as lawmakers and the governor struggle with the new budget deficit. But a responsible solution that preserves vital county safety net services will protect hard-working Wisconsin families as they try to weather the economic storm.