Originally created 06/20/02

State agencies protest more budget cuts



ATLANTA - Agencies serving Georgians with a variety of needs have borne all of the state spending cuts they can stand, nearly three dozen social-services advocates told the Board of Human Resources during a Wednesday public hearing.

"I only used half of my time because y'all cut half of my money," said Pat Reid, of the Visiting Nurses Association, a group that cares for AIDS patients. "Please don't cut us any more."

The hearing was part of the board's effort to set priorities for the Department of Human Resources' 2004 budget request, which must be submitted to Gov. Roy Barnes' Office of Planning and Budget by Sept. 1. The governor will present his spending proposals to the General Assembly in January.

The task will be especially difficult in the coming year because the state's financial outlook still appears bleak. State tax revenues have declined for 11 consecutive months, despite recent signs that the economy is turning around.

Mr. Barnes reacted to the downturn last year by freezing or phasing in funding increases that had been earmarked for agencies providing home- and community-based services to Georgia's frail, elderly, mentally ill, mentally retarded and developmentally disabled.

As a result, waiting lists for those services remain high. As of March 31, more than 4,200 senior citizens and disabled adults were on a waiting list to receive care that would allow them to stay out of nursing homes, said Martha Eaves, the legislative chairwoman for the Georgia Council on Aging.

"We cannot make progress with frozen funds and budget cuts," added Heidi Fernandez, the mother of an 8-year-old boy with autism and a member of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Wednesday's speakers also included advocates for substance-abuse and job-training programs.

Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams, who oversees drug courts in Glynn and Camden counties, asked for more state funding to help offset the loss of a federal grant that expires at the end of this year. Participants in the two-year program have their drug-arrest record cleared if they pass regular drug tests, get counseling, earn a high-school diploma and get a job.

Elizabeth Appley of the Women's Policy Group called for the state to put more emphasis on training welfare recipients for jobs that will pay them enough to become self-sufficient.

"This department is committed to reducing child poverty," she told board members. "If we don't give people leaving (welfare) the education and training to earn a living wage, we will never reach that goal."