Thursday, March 6, 2003

Legislators fear cuts
will shred ‘safety net’

They say the needy will be hurt
the most by the trimmed funds

By Helen Altonn

State legislators warn that proposed budget cuts in the next two years will shred Hawaii's "social safety net" and hurt a growing population of vulnerable and needy residents.

Legislature 2003

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Briefing nonprofit health and human services providers yesterday in the state Capitol auditorium, legislators listed page after page of services and programs that are not included in the administration's proposed two-year budget.

Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley), House Health Committee chairman, said more than $24.5 million will be sliced from health and human services, community services and housing programs for the homeless.

"There is no doubt the cuts will hurt people."

Many cuts involve programs supported this year by the Legislature from the state's "rainy day" fund, including grants for rural hospitals, appropriations for medically uninsured services, preschool and early childhood programs, homeless assistance and dental services for schoolchildren, among others.

Grants allocated this year for Wahiawa General Hospital, Catholic Charities, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, the Labor Department's Office of Community Services and other human services projects were dropped from the executive budget.

Arakaki said the briefing was intended to start a collaborative process between community groups, the Legislature and the governor to look for alternatives to save services.

In a statement later, Gov. Linda Lingle said, "Our goal is in making sure the cuts we make don't harm people."

She said: "It's too early in the budget process to really analyze what the direct impact will be. There is a lot of discussion between the Legislature and myself."

She said the state needs to be more aggressive in pursuing federal funds, which she discussed the past two days with visiting U.S. Health and Human Services officials.

Rep. Michael Kahikina, House Human Services Committee chairman, said, "There is no safety net," and "it's time to rally the village ... for compassionate, responsible solutions."

Representatives of the Hawaii Primary Care Association, Hawaii Poison Center, Institute for Human Services, Hawaii Uninsured Project, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and other nonprofit organizations predicted devastating effects from reduced state funding.

"If there is no money to help the emergency room be open at night, there will be not only health problems, but additional deaths in Waianae," said Dr. Terry Shintani, of the Waianae health center.

State Human Services Director Lilllian Koller told legislators, "We aren't shredding the safety net."

She said more people are being assisted and more money is being spent because of departmental savings and federal funds. No clients will lose services, she said.

"What's going to happen to these programs?" asked Rep. Scott Nishimoto (D, Kaimuki-Waikiki), vice chairman of the House Health Committee, pointing to the pages of cuts.

Koller said the department has savings to use from programs that did not start and because fewer people received general assistance welfare benefits.

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