OLYMPIA, Wash. - Gov. Chris Gregoire's supplemental budget
reads like a laundry list of everything you wouldn't want to happen to an elderly friend or relative on a fixed income, according to advocates for Washington seniors and people with disabilities.
On Thursday, the governor unveiled the proposal that would eliminate services for tens of thousands, including home health care, prescription drug coverage for Medicaid patients, adult day-health programs, and the "Basic Health" insurance plan for impoverished people.
If the state is trying to create jobs, says Gerry Reilly, who heads the ElderCare Alliance
, it's going about it the wrong way.
"This budget will lay off thousands of additional people. It will also send half a billion dollars back to Washington, D.C., in federal matching funds that are available, saying, 'No thanks.' It is absolutely foolish economic policy."
Gregoire says two-thirds of the state budget cannot be cut, so reductions are concentrated in the one-third that remains - which includes human services, higher education and corrections.
Reilly says there is a way to mend the fraying safety net of human services, although he isn't sure state lawmakers have the will to do it. He counts about $500 million in tax loopholes which could be closed, and says legislators' choices are easy - compared with what some of their older constituents are facing.
"Taking difficult tax votes that you have to go back and explain to your constituents - that's not really hard. A really hard choice is knowing that your home-care worker is not coming to your house tonight to assist you with your toileting or your wound care; or that you're going to have to leave your nursing home and you don't know where you're going to go."
Families already provide the majority of care-giving services, says Reilly, adding that most government assistance goes to those who don't have families or whose families have, in his words, "helped beyond all capacity."
The proposal will serve as the starting point for legislative debate about how to balance the budget. The special session begins in one month.
Information on the supplemental budget proposal is online at ofm.wa.gov