No reason to celebrate

Senate budget neglects human services.

By Chris Fitzsimon

[6.25.04] — As the Senate passed its budget June 24, human-service advocates breathed a sigh of relief.

But don’t break out the champagne and confetti yet.

The Senate budget is reasonable only in comparison with the House plan.

Senate leaders decided not to make further cuts in mental health programs, add 2,000 children to the waiting list for subsidized day care or freeze enrollment for Health Choice, the state’s health-care program for poor children.

Under the budget, many waiting lists for human services won’t grow and programs that need more money won’t suffer deeper cuts.

But the 24,000 children on the waiting list for subsidized day care will remain on the waiting list.

The roughly 80,000 North Carolinians on waiting lists for mental health and substance-abuse services will remain on the waiting list for services.

Thousands of families desperate to find affordable housing will have to wait at least another year.

People with AIDS who make more than $11,600 a year still won’t get any help from the state to buy life-saving drugs that cost more than $12,000 a year, and roughly half the people who do make less than $11,600 will not get the drugs either.

The Senate was able to reject many of the House human-service cuts because Senate leaders determined more money was available than originally predicted.

Instead of actually increasing services or reducing waiting lists, the Senate used much of the newly found money to cut business taxes and to pay for projects like a NASCAR test track near Charlotte and new buildings at UNC campuses in the districts of Senate leaders, projects university leaders had not requested.

House and Senate leaders now begin negotiating the final budget agreement that will be a compromise between the two plans.

The differences are simple.

The House makes deep cuts to human services that need dramatically more funding.

The Senate does not make the cuts, but doesn’t find any new money either.

And the new money goes to pet projects and business tax cuts.

Unless legislative leaders discover some political courage in the General Assembly’s last few weeks, it is now a foregone conclusion that most of the people in North Carolina who need help with their most basic needs won’t be getting it this year.

The only question left is how many new people will be denied the services they managed to get this past year.

That is not much reason to celebrate.

Chris Fitzsimon is director of NC Policy Watch, a program of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal.

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