Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Proposed Cuts To Services In Washington State Aimed At Most Vulnerable

Susan Dreyfus, Secretary of DSHS in Washington State
Susan Dreyfus, the Secretary of The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Department does not like the proposed cuts in services looming in the wake of an ongoing recession. Dreyfus has worked in Washington since 2009 and was candid about her father dying of alcoholism. Dreyfus spoke to an audience that flowed into the hallway at Tacoma's Catholic Community Services headquarters Tuesday, September 27th. One pending cut would eliminate all alcohol and substance abuse services except to pregnant and parenting women. This cut would impact 55,000 people.

The cuts examined on a large level do not have the impact of personal stories. One woman sat with her gravely disabled son she cares for daily. She shared her story of choosing to stop working at a job paying sixteen dollars an hour to make ten dollars an hour to keep her son out of a group home. She said it was more important her son has someone who knows and loves him with him daily than to keep her job and utilize state funds to care for him in a group home. Instead of group home funding, she relies on state funds to care for her son and keep both of them housed and fed. The cuts, she noted, would put both of them on the streets.

Another man talked about having to possibly displace all the residents of a 200 bed in-care patient facility for Alzheimer's patients. Also displaced would be 120 full time workers and 120 part-time employees. His facility is ninety percent funded by Medicaid. Washington has ranked second in the nation for the best long-term care and that rating may soon end.

Oddly, the state's Constitution does not prevent other programs in the state to be cut, only social services. Even pay to legislators is protected by the state's Constitution. The legislature is Constitutionally required to balance the budget, and this could potentially victimize the most vulnerable which would have far reaching economic impacts. Front line workers such as police and fire fighters would be forced to handle the release of dementia and traumatic brain injury patients from Western State Hospital in addition to hundreds of mentally ill people. Our criminal justice system would be filled with patients who need mental health care, not imprisonment. Layoffs would actually result in less revenue for the state as formerly employed residents would no longer be spending money and paying taxes. If one thinks the state has not already made cuts, this is not true.

Since 2008, there have been three thousand DSHS employees laid off which amounts to a fourteen percent reduction in staff. Allegations adminstration is the drain on the budget is also not true. Administration accounts for one percent of the entire budget. Reduction options include suspending all pharmaceutical benefits for eighteen months to adults, at which time federal funding changes are to take hold. This would amount to a savings of 127 million dollars. Other cuts would include eliminating the Basic Health Plan, eliminating maternity support services, and all non-emergent dental health care. In fact, dental health care has already been eliminated.

The disability lifeline, money people rely on while trying to obtain federal social security disability benefits would save the state 110 million dollars but leave people who have no safety nets with nothing. With no address, SSI and SSDI claims would be denied since homeless people would not receive mail to inform them of the oftentimes confusing appeals process. Only one-third of all SSI/SSDI claims are approved initially. Right now the state has such a backlog of claims, they are being sent to other states due to a shortage of adjudicators to examine them.

Controversial and debated cuts include 34 million dollars in savings for immigrant and undocumented children when a national welfare reform act included citizenship as a requirement to obtain Medicaid. Ten states currently provide interpreter services and eliminating this service would save the state 4.8 million dollars. A proposed cut to payment methods to hospitals would save 33 million dollars, though specifics of such changes were not clearly stated in this presentation.

The definition of "most vulnerable" is crucial to this entire looming budget proposal. DSHS defines this class of people as "persons whose poverty, age, health, disability or language leaves them unable to care for themselves and susceptible to physical, emotional or financial exploitation."

If anyone has a personal story they would like to share with DSHS which will also be shared with elected officials, please send them to: thomas.shapley@dshs.wa.gov Shapley said he wants stories. The final decision will be made at a legislative hearing in November. It is important citizens speak, those who cannot speak for themselves must have representatives speak for them, and the voices of the people must outweigh a legislature that has written in protections for their own salaries versus the needs of the citizens they represent. Many legislators have given up portions of their salaries to date, but not some of them. Those that have not ought to be contacted.

Start with Jeannie Darneille, 27th District State Reprentative who not only has a retirement and salary from her current job, but a spouse who is an attorney. Since she reportedly recently called a member of the Tacoma community who has schizophrenia a slanderous and unkind name on Facebook, perhaps she could donate funds to mental health services, another service on the chopping block. Her number in Olympia is: 360-786-7974. Darneille is seeking a higher office and is running against longtime civil rights attorney Jack Connelly. The choice for the person to fill that higher office is quite obvious: Connelly. -Alison Whiteman


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