ATLANTA -- Advocates for social services say the budget cuts that Gov. Nathan Deal is recommending come as a staggering blow to agencies providing health care, employment assistance and food to the poor and elderly.
“During the budget hearings, every agency said, ‘we’ll take our hits now, but remember us next year or whenever the money comes back into the budget.’ But the new normal is this level of revenue for the state,” said Alan Essig, executive director of the Atlanta think tank the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Essig made his comments Friday during an all-day conference with social service agencies and non-profit groups to help them understand the implications of the state’s budget. While the legislature just began hearings on the details of the budget, it’s unlikely to remove most cuts because legislative leaders oppose raising taxes, especially while the unemployment rate tops 10 percent.
The cuts this year go beyond reducing administrative overhead or staff, said Claire Richie senior policy analyst for the institute.
“We’re decreasing services,” she said.
For example, the $1 million cut to Elder Support Services means shut-ins won’t get 138,000 home-delivered meals at a time when 4,300 elderly Georgians were already on a waiting list for the meals, according to the retiree-advocate group AARP. The organization predicts loss of the meals could send thousands to nursing homes since they would no longer be able to stay in their homes, which are cheaper for the state and preferred by the retirees.
Agency personnel cuts will boost the caseload for individual social workers to more than 600, leaving little time for investigations and intervention, warned Lucy Smith, manager of the Food & Nutrition Unit in the Department of Family and Children Services. Furloughs of one day per month add to the strain.
“We’re not even able to work every work day,” she said.
Other cuts include, reducing by 10,000 the children getting subsidized childcare and adding an estimated 4,000 families to a waiting list, according to projections Richie released Friday. The foster-care program would lose $5 million, a 7.6 percent reduction from last year and a 48 percent drop since fiscal year 2009 when the recession hit the state budget.
The Division of Aging Services would take a 15 percent drop compared to its pre-recession level. That includes cuts of 19 percent from the pre-recession level to Elder Abuse Investigations & Prevention and 28 percent to the Council on Aging.
Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, health programs for the poor, are looking at a 1 percent cut is payments to the doctors and hospitals who provide treatment. At the same time, the programs would require the people covered to pay higher co-payments while ending coverage for dental, vision and podiatry services.
The examples go on and on, and those attending the conference had to also absorb the news that Republicans in Congress are pushing for cutting as much as half of the assistance the federal government grants to states for social programs.