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.
“I’m afraid I’m going to lose the service altogether and if that happens I’ll lose my job,” said Kooney, a 40-year-old Clifton Park, N.Y., woman who is using personal time to fill in gaps when her 12-year-old son, Matthew, is home from school. An aide left earlier this year, and they’ve been waiting for a replacement.
“They’re really looking at cutting back and, for my family, that’s a really big thing,” she said.
Cuts could have an effect long after any kind of recovery takes place.
“These cuts are atrocious, and they’re really in the long run going to cost the state of California a fortune because … the best preventative health care is good dental care and if you don’t take care of people’s teeth it leads to all kinds of complications,” said O’Brien.
New York’s Fiscal Policy Institute cautioned that leaning too heavily on spending cuts would offset the positive impact of the federal stimulus funds.
“Doing budget cuts or tax increases on the fly right now—for the last six months of the year—is not a good idea for the economy because all the economists think a recovery has begun or is about to begin,” said Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. “I think we shouldn’t do things to interrupt that.”
The report listed four common traits that make states fiscally vulnerable: economies that are overly dependent on a single industry; substantial gaps between revenues and expenditures; limited ability to raise taxes or cut programs; and lack of political resolve to make long-term decisions.
Until the economy improves, the victims of these budget cuts try to make the best of a bad situation.
Dance, the laid-off California teacher and former stay-at-home mom, checks online job sites.
“I went through a divorce and had to get reeducated and back into the workforce. In June, I was ready to get tenure, and they just let me go,” Dance said. “There’s no job security anymore.”
But she has hope. She’s planning to return to school yet again to become certified in a discipline that has a growing need.
“I went back at 49 and got my teaching credential. And now at 58, I’m going to go back and get a credential in special ed.”
Donna Liquori is a writer in upstate New York.