(Host) Several Human Service advocacy groups are urging the Joint Fiscal Committee to postpone budget cuts proposed by the Douglas Administration for several months.
They argue that the cuts might not be necessary if Congress passes a major economic stimulus package in January.
The Douglas Administration says such an approach is fiscally irresponsible.
VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) About half of the nearly $20 million in proposed cuts affect Human Service programs. The Douglas Administration says this is fair because the Human Services budget accounts for about 50% of all state spending.
The Department for Children and Families takes the biggest hit – their budget is reduced by roughly $3 million- this represents an 8% cut for the rest of the fiscal year.
Barbara Postman is the policy director for a group known as Voices for Vermont’s Children. She says she’s concerned about the impact the cuts will have on child care subsidies:
(Postman)"Here’s a situation where a family is trying to work and they can’t go to work because they can’t afford to pay for their child care and these families are in incredible stress and what’s going to happen to these kids it’s very, very worrying."
Postman wants lawmakers to delay the cuts until the state fully understands how much money it might receive from a massive federal stimulus package – there are estimates that it could be as much as $150 million:
(Postman) "This isn’t just a small amount of money that the federal government is going to put into the system it seems like every time they talk about it they realize they have to put more because they know that the states are hurting."
Ken Libertoff is the director of the Vermont Association of Mental Health.
He says a proposed cut of $2.3 million for the Department of Mental Health will reduce services at community health centers for thousands of Vermonters and could result in at least a hundred layoffs. Libertoff also wants lawmakers to delay the cuts:
(Libertoff) "I think that this is one of those moments in time where risks have to be taken the risk is to move too quickly and perhaps decimate systems with unintended consequences the other is to reflect and give it some time knowing that there is a serious problem but with the assumption that there’s going to be federal intervention."
Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett says the possibility of receiving new federal money certainly complicates the whole discussion around budget cuts:
(Bartlet) "Maybe they’re going to come through with enough Medicaid money that it will make all the difference in the world it’s a very difficult environment trying to make difficult decisions and ask folks to make difficult decisions when you’re hoping that Santa Claus is going to arrive with multi millions of dollars that don’t have any strings attached and you can fix everything."
Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville strongly opposes any delay in making the cuts:
(Lunderville) "It is not a prudent approach for us to wait for assistance that may or may not come we don’t know when it’s going to come we don’t know how much is going to come and we don’t know the strings that are going to be attached to that money in other words where we will be able to spend it. So it’s important that we make the tough decisions now we don’t delay."
The Joint Fiscal Committee is scheduled to vote on the package of cuts on Friday. It’s not clear at this time what action the panel will take.
For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.