Tough decisions ahead for the family of Texas
By Sen. Carlos Uresti
Hard-working Texas families who struggle to stretch their paychecks to the end of the month know how to separate the absolute necessities of life from the things they must live without.
Those necessities may change from family to family, but in the end there is a budget that must be balanced and minimum living requirements that must be met.
So it is with the Texas Legislature. When lawmakers meet again in January, we will face the same agonizing decisions that Texas families deal with every month – but on a vastly larger scale. The projected budget deficit of $18 billion is unprecedented in our history, and so is the gravity of the decisions that we'll have to make.
In fact, many budget cutting proposals are being made right now. As the Legislature, state leaders and government agencies go about this task, the people of Senate District 19 deserve to know what my priorities are – what I consider to be the absolute necessities for the family of Texas.
Last month, The Texas Health and Human Services Commission outlined more than $568 million in potential cuts for the next biennium. Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs followed up with some specific details on what this 10 percent budget reduction would mean. Here's a look:
$60.2 million less for programs providing health and dental services, including vaccinations, primary care and services for children with special health care needs, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in childhood vaccination and the elimination of a dental services program that serves about 9,000 children.
$73.7 million less for Prevention and Early Intervention programs, resulting in a reduction of 14,172 children currently served by abuse and neglect and juvenile delinquency programs.
$139.7 million less for state mental health hospital capacity, community mental health services and substance abuse intervention services, resulting in 1,428 fewer patients in state hospitals, and 14,076 fewer adults and children receiving community mental health services.
This is just a sampling of the proposed cuts for this agency and does not include additional reductions for the Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.
These proposed cuts target essential programs for our state's most vulnerable citizens – children facing abuse and neglect and those with special needs, working families who lack access to dental services and other health care, the elderly and people struggling with physical and mental disabilities.
And in the long term, cutting such programs doesn't achieve the savings we seek. Because of corresponding losses in federal funding and the costs associated with ignoring these physical and mental health care needs, we all end up paying more.
These fellow Texans are our neighbors, across the street or perhaps across town – all part of our wider community family. They are not looking for a handout, just a helping hand. For me, and I hope for you as well, the state-funded programs that help these people get through life should be on the list of things that we as a state can't live without.
Lawmakers in the next session will have to spend some of the Rainy Day fund, look for new sources of revenue through sales tax reform and, without doubt, make some painful cuts.
But if you believe as I do that that those cuts must not be made at the expense of abused and neglected children, the sick and the disabled, please don't stay silent during the legislative process.
As a member of the family of Texas, you have a role in the debate on state spending and the setting of our priorities, and your voice deserves to be heard.