Governor's Proposed 2010 Budget a Disaster for Children and Their Families

Governor Douglas presented his 2010 budget address to the legislature Thursday, January 22nd.  He tackled the severe budget problems caused by the recent sharp drop in revenues by cutting human services programs that serve children, the elderly, those with disabilities and low-income families. Below Voices staff has copied parts of his speech that affect children and their families (in italics) and added our response. Voices will strongly oppose the cuts and encourage  raising of revenue and other options – such as using the substantial federal funds coming to the states – to get through this economic crisis.

  • “[W]e must ask some of the 25% of Vermonters who receive Medicaid assistance to share more of the cost. Accordingly, I propose restoring monthly premiums for both Dr. Dynasaur and VHAP to their 2007 levels, as well as a 4% reimbursement reduction for many of our Medicaid providers.”

Asking “Vermonters who receive Medicaid assistance to share more of the cost” of health care is both irresponsible and unfair. To qualify for Medicaid and Dr. Dynasaur, you must have “limited income” – accordingly, those in the program are often struggling to make ends meet and would be unlikely to afford health care otherwise. Vermont’s Medicaid participants are exactly the group that is least able to take another financial hit in this economic climate.

Under the Governor’s proposal, Dr. Dynasaur premiums would: 1) double from $15 to $30 per month for families making between 185-225% of the federal poverty level; 2) double from $20 to $40 for underinsured families whose incomes are from 225-300% of poverty for whom Dr. Dynasaur serves as secondary insurance ; 3) and go up from $60 to $80 for uninsured families making between 225-300% of poverty (called the SCHIP program).  Raising premiums could be the final push that sends some families spiraling downwards, or it could force them to go without needed medical care, or both, leading to more expensive medical and financial interventions down the road. This is not protecting our most vulnerable, it is kicking them when they’re down. The economic pain has to be shared fairly, not inflicted upon already-struggling families.

  • “Low income families who are struggling to enter the workforce are served by our state’s Reach Up Program. The fiscal 2010 budget has been raised substantially to address the increasing number of families now eligible. To partially offset some of those new costs, I propose strategically decreasing the level of some benefits. I have put several proposals forward that I believe can strengthen the program and increase incentives for work participation.”

The Governor has revealed he wants to delay the implementation of Reach Ahead and impose “full family sanctions” on Reach Up grantees who don’t comply with program requirements.

Families in which the parents are working and have left Reach Up are not necessarily in the clear – even full employment is often not sufficient to meet basic needs. Reach Ahead was designed to give these low-income families another push upward in the form of food assistance. Delaying the program’s implementation yet again could cause some families to slide back down instead of becoming economically self-sufficient.

When parents don’t – or can’t – meet work requirements, they lose their portion of Reach Up grants. Currently, the family still receives the children’s portion. If the Governor’s proposal to impose “full family sanctions” goes into effect, estimates predict that 250 families across the state would lose all cash assistance. Children in these families are already living well below the poverty line – reducing their already-limited support would be devastating. Full family sanctions aren’t likely to put more families on the path to self-sufficiency, they are more likely to push vulnerable families off the program completely and onto other forms of government assistance or deeper into poverty.

For more information on Reach Up and Reach Ahead, see “Changes to Vermont’s TANF Program.”

  • “As a first step to share the sacrifice and encourage efficiencies, my budget proposes a 4% reduction for nearly all human service grant [to non-profits] to achieve approximately $2 million in general fund savings.  These reductions will include programs that I have championed during my tenure.”

Non-profit human services programs work to meet the needs of Vermonters. Most organizations that are supported by the state are chronically underfunded.  A 4% across-the-board reduction will be devastating, no doubt resulting in sharp reductions in services and personnel at a time when services are in high demand and jobs are increasingly scarce.

  • “I propose a 20% increase in general fund support for higher education. At the other end of the spectrum, I propose increased support by 20% for early care and education to bring greater balance to our education continuum. This funding will be directed through the Department for Children and Families for increased quality to ensure that more children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and for improved access for lower income families through the child care subsidy program.”

We applaud the Governor in calling for increased funding for higher and early education and the child care subsidy program. Expanded access to higher education is a great way to raise the income of future parents and investing more in early education will pay off down the road with more successful students. Increases to the child care subsidy program will also help working parents by easing some of the burden of child care’s high costs and giving them more flexibility in work schedules.

  • “Bringing education spending in line with other important aspects of government is the first step toward a more equitable budget.”

Vermonter’s want to give our kids the best education we can. That’s why communities have supported their local schools by passing budgets, year after year. Our kids can’t wait for the economy to turn around to learn the skills that will prepare them for the rest of their lives. Continuing to invest in the future is farsighted, a state-mandated spending freeze is not.

We don’t want to pit certain sectors of our public structures  against another. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Governor’s proposed cuts are doing by selectively undermining certain programs and services. Sustainable financial planning and good policy-making require that we look at all options we have in this economic downturn, including use of rainy day funds, raising revenues, creative uses of new federal funds and deficit spending, in order to maintain a basic level of support for all citizens during hard times.  Relying on deep budget cuts to resolve Vermont’s financial problems and pitting one group of people against another is going to hurt us all.