Fairness in government in times of budget cuts

A quote from Hubert Humphrey: "It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

The theme in Governor Kulongoski's proposed budget seems to be that in difficult economic times the only worthwhile investment of state dollars is in activities that will grow the economy. When the Governor released the budget, he stated, "We cannot afford to lose ground on the progress we've made over the last several years reinvesting in education "¦" Unfortunately, it appears this would be accomplished, at least in part, by cutting services to disabled adults and frail elders by 18 percent I am a strong advocate for public education, but I don't believe that our only option is to balance the budget on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

In 2003, when all portions of the budget were hit with drastic reductions, the state office of Seniors and People with Disabilities (SPD), after cutting staffing and internal expenses, was forced to eliminate services to people who were classified as priority levels 15-17 (low-income people who require assistance with meal preparation, bathing, dressing and mobility).

In 2005, when funding was more plentiful, public education recovered and even expanded its budgets, but services for the level 15-17 people were not reinstated. While some of these individuals again received assistance, it was only after their health deteriorated to the point that they required a higher, more costly level of care.

Under the governor's proposed budget, SPD is faced with a new round of ever deeper cuts that would isolate even more of the most vulnerable people in Southern Oregon — nearly 1,000 in Jackson and Josephine counties alone. Without exaggeration, with these cuts, individuals with extreme care needs could be stranded in their own homes without assistance; and individuals in assisted living facilities, adult foster homes or even nursing homes could find themselves with no place to live —- and no hope of even the most minimal assistance.

The governor said, "We don't have the money to do everything that needs to be done in the next two years. But today I propose a budget that invests in the future by investing in children, working families, businesses, and economic opportunity during these challenging times." It sounds like a noble goal — until you realize that the ones left behind are the ones whose need for care cannot wait for some future prosperity.

If you agree that leaving our seniors and people with disabilities behind is not the direction our state should take, please speak out. Call the governor and your legislators. Talk with your neighbors, friends and family. Write a letter to the editor. Tell them to restore services to seniors and people with disabilities. Remind them that we want Oregon to be a place where all people are valued, including those whose contribution to society may not translate easily and cleanly into a spreadsheet. Isn't it time for us to ask what kind of Oregon we want to live in?

Don Bruland is the director of the Senior and Disability Services of Rogue Valley Council of Governments. This federal-, state- and locally-funded agency has developed a network of services to help seniors and adults with disabilities live with dignity and independence.

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