Charities push for funds


POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2009

The $74 million reserve was created for a rainy day, and now it's pouring, say nonprofit health, human services and education groups asking the state for the money.

They are pushing for Senate Bill 1679 “;relating to the emergency and budget reserve fund.”;

“;What you see is the struggle to use the rainy day fund for safety-net programs as called for in rainy day legislation,”; said Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii state director.

The nonprofits' programs at first had individual or packaged requests that were “;lined out,”; or stricken, from the executive budget or legislative proposals because of the budget crunch, she said.

Even before the Council on Revenues' latest forecast of plunging state revenues, she said, “;Alarms were sounding that this fiscal year there was going to be a shortfall. And the concern was for the next biennium because of the economic downturn.”;

With a mounting state general fund deficit, she said service providers were consistently told to look for other sources of support.

She said the rainy day fund stood out because it was established in 1999 by the Legislature as “;a temporary supplemental source of funding ... in times of emergency, economic downturn or unforeseen reduction in revenues.”;

Specific purposes include maintaining “;the levels of programs determined to be essential to public health, safety, welfare and education.”;

This led to “;one watering hole”; for programs trying to operate critical services with funds disappearing or being cut, Stanton said. The shortfall will begin April 1 for many services, she emphasized.

But the governor has said she wants to take $60 million from the rainy day fund to balance the state budget. The shortfall for the next two years climbed from $650 million to $910 million with the Council of Revenues' forecast last week.

SB 1679 was moved out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committees with specific appropriations deleted, but funding requests were listed for “;fiscal guidance”; purposes.

They totaled more than $75 million.

Stanton acknowledged is “;a pretty hefty amount,”; adding, “;We're not saying all of it has to be used, but certainly ... basic human needs should be addressed.”;

Some of the biggest items listed in the first Senate draft were $9 million for the Healthy Start Program that was deleted from the executive budget, $7 million for the Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver Program, $25 million to cover a shortfall in mental health services; $3.5 million for direct health care to the uninsured, $1.5 million for substance abuse treatment and $1,025,000 for kupuna care.

Money also is listed for respite services, Ke Ola Pono, the Chronic Disease Self-Management program, EnhanceFitness and for development of the Aging and Disability Resource Center, Partnerships in Community Living and Healthy Aging Partnership programs.

Catholic Charities, the Kapahulu and Moiliili Senior Centers and Waikiki Community Center also are included for funding requests.

“;We understand what they're saying, that they have to balance the budget,”; Stanton said. “;But seniors, the elderly and disabled are probably the least able to get on their feet, and they are taking a disproportionate share of burden in balancing the budget.

“;We have to really start thinking, What is the purpose of government? Providing critical services has to be up there as one of the highest priorities, services to the most vulnerable.

“;To have that taken away would really put people flat on their backs. They're already on their knees. ...

“;Everybody is saying, 'There is no money—you should find money.' This bill is meant to do exactly that.”;