Local Politics

Lawmakers, advocates leery of more cuts to human services

Posted April 13, 2010 3:57 p.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2010 7:01 p.m. EDT

— As lawmakers begin the process of erasing a projected $788 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July, some are already balking at more cuts to programs that were hit hard by last year's budget cuts.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler on Tuesday submitted a list of 53 programs that could be reduced or eliminated from his department's $4.2 billion budget to help balance the state budget. The suggested cuts included the Smart Start pre-kindergarten program, child advocacy centers, mental health clinics, private-duty nursing and personal care services.

"It makes all of us scared," said David Richard, executive director of Arc of North Carolina, an advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities. "If we have to do those cuts, people will lose everything they have. We'll never restore the system if they go this deep."

Some lawmakers agreed that the suggested cuts go too far.

"We're sitting here dealing with these unconscionable proposed cuts in health care," said Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin. "These are fundamental services that we ought to be able to deliver."

The 14-page list details $144 million to $154 million in optional cuts, but Cansler said that barely covers the 3 percent budget reduction scenario. DHHS officials couldn't come close to compiling a list that would cut spending by 5 to 7 percent, as requested by Gov. Beverly Perdue's office, he said.

A 5 percent cut would be about $210 million, while a 7 percent cut would approach $300 million.

State Rep. Verlo Insko, D-Orange, said she worries even more about the 2011-12 budget, when about $1 billion in taxes approved last year are set to expire and millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds are no longer available to plug into the budget.

DHHS already faces several lawsuits tied to the $1.2 billion in cuts made last year, and courts have delayed some of the spending reducations until the suits are resolved. Advocates for the disabled guaranteed Tuesday that even more suits would be filed if the cutbacks continue.

"These budget cuts presented (Tuesday) are simply unworkable. The state has an obligation under federal law to provide services to people with disabilities," said Annaliese Dolph, an attorney for Disability Rights North Carolina.