DHHS budget cuts to harm women, children, elderly

By Eliza Townsend, Special to the BDN
Posted May 14, 2012, at 4:30 p.m.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, when we honor the many ways our mothers care for us and shape who we are. Styles of celebrating vary from family to family, but the fundamental message is the same: Raising children is hard and important work that benefits us and our society and deserves recognition.

Sadly, thousands of Maine mothers got a different message this Mother’s Day after the Republican majority on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee voted out a budget that slashed funding for family planning clinics, child care subsidies, Head Start, health insurance for low-income parents and prescription drugs for the poor elderly.

These cuts are mean spirited and irresponsible. The cumulative effect will be profound, and it will haunt Maine and her people for decades to come.

Let’s start with the cuts to family planning clinics, which provide not only contraceptive care but also basic preventive health services to low-income women who cannot otherwise get treatment.

Since a dollar spent by the state on family planning will save at least $4 in future costs, the $400,000 cut today will cost at least $1.6 million dollars down the road. Add in the cut to screenings for sexually transmitted disease. Now recognize that 7,000 19- and 20-year-olds are losing health care coverage. The results are entirely predictable — more disease and more babies born to those least prepared to care for them.

Caring for an infant is demanding, exhausting work, and the Home Visiting Program helps new parents adjust to their responsibility, helping to head off the type of tragedy that took place last week in Arundel, but 750 fewer families will receive that service each year going forward. We’ll save money, but at what cost?

Maine’s poverty rate for children under 5 has spiked above the national average, with nearly 60 percent of those children living in a family headed by a single mother. Those women didn’t get pregnant by themselves.

Child care subsidies allow those low-income parents to work while ensuring consistent care for their kids. Similarly, Head Start is a proven, effective program that prepares children to enter school ready to learn while allowing their low-income parents to earn a living. These investments have so proven themselves that business leaders and law enforcement professionals endorse them. Both programs have been slashed.

Now consider the elimination of health insurance coverage for 14,500 low-income working parents following an earlier cut to a similar number of people. That’s 28,000 low-income Mainers, most of them mothers. Many will lose both health insurance and child care at the same time. Do we really think they will be able to continue to work, or is it much more likely that they will slide deeper into poverty and become even more reliant on public assistance? This is the very definition of budgeting that is penny wise and pound foolish.

Finally, we come to the effect on the elderly. Maine’s poverty rate for people over 65, two-thirds of whom are women, exceeds the national average. Just in time for Mother’s Day, our political leaders voted to cut the Drugs for the Elderly program, leaving an estimated 1,500 frail elders challenged to pay for essential prescription drugs.

Don’t let anyone tell you it had to be this way. Budgets are about making choices, and our leaders have repeatedly chosen to implement tax cuts. Now they are slashing vital preventive services to women, children and the elderly to pay for them.

Many of us measure our success as parents by how our children treat other people. Will legislators voting on the budget this week make a choice their mothers would be proud of?

Eliza Townsend is executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/14/opinion/dhhs-budget-cuts-to-harm-women-children-elderly/ printed on November 27, 2014