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State Budget Cuts Hurting People From Coast to Coast

Stacia Kooney is worried she won’t have an aide to care for her autistic son while she’s at work because of potential cuts to New York state’s budget.

Roselle Dance landed a job teaching elementary school kids in San Jose, Calif., after returning to school at age 49 to become a teacher. Now, at 58, she’s out of work—a victim of state budget cuts.

Shawn Casey O’Brien, an advocate for California’s disabled population, was one of hundreds of thousands who lost Medi-Cal dental coverage as a result of a move by the state that is being fought in the courts.

“Of course, they always balance the budget on the backs of seniors and disabled people because we are the least organized and we are a poor community,” said O’Brien, 53, who has cerebral palsy and hosts Access Unlimited, a radio show in Los Angeles for the disabled community.

Although some states have used federal stimulus grants to offset revenue shortages, others are slashing budgets—sometimes in the middle of the fiscal year—to close deficits. Valuable services that help the nation’s most vulnerable are being frozen or even cut as demand increases and jobs vanish. For example:

  • In, Arizona, nearly 10,000 parents were added to the ranks of the uninsured as the state ended parent coverage through its KidsCare program.

  • In California, about 130,000 low-income older people or people with disabilities could see their in-home care eliminated or reduced. The issue is now before federal courts.

  • In Ohio, a scheduled 4.2 percent reduction in state income taxes may be canceled, so filers would have to continue paying at the current rate.

  • In Texas, about 38,000 new applicants for food stamps have to wait for a decision more than a month because of a reduction in staff that processes the applications.

  • In Washington, about 40,000 low-income people are in danger of losing health care coverage because of a 43 percent cut in the state-subsidized Basic Health Plan.

  • In Wisconsin, up to 20,000 people face a waiting list because the expansion of the BadgerCare Plus Core Plan, which offers affordable health care coverage to adults without minor children, will not happen as quickly as planned.

In Washington, D.C., the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports 41 states have imposed cuts because of budget constraints.

“Folks who have never needed or accessed assistance are now needing to, as they have lost an income—or two—and finding new jobs is extremely difficult,” said Denise Harlow, CEO of the New York State Community Action Association.

Nicholas Johnson, director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said, “Things aren’t going to get any better.

“It looks like fiscal 2011 … will be even worse in terms of funding for health care and education and human services than the current year,” Johnson said, referring to the budget year that will begin for many states on July 1, 2010. He predicts unemployment will remain high and consumer spending will continue to be low.

The center projects that states are facing a combined budget gap estimated at $350 billion for 2010 and 2011.

The federal stimulus program is “ending a little too soon,” Johnson said, adding that phasing out assistance more gradually would help avert additional deep cuts. (At Recovery.gov, you can see a map with each state’s share of the federal stimulus package, including funds awarded, funds received and jobs created.)

In the meantime, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Last month, New York Gov. David Paterson, D, released a proposal to cut $3 billion from the current fiscal year’s spending. He plans to cut an additional $2 billion next year. The announcement has caused anxiety among those relying on state funds to care for relatives.

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