Statement for Dane County Public Hearing
September 9, 2004

The League of Women Voters of Dane County has a long history of concern about the quality of life in Dane County. The greatest test of a society is the well being of the most vulnerable and powerless citizens.

We have supported adequate funding for quality human services for many years. In recent years we have advocated for Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) that at least equal the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and we continue to do so tonight. Funding for the "provider agencies" has not kept up with inflation for 15 years, creating a situation where the base is eroding and the low increases cannot support the necessary services. We have watched with concern the erosion of quality services, due to the cuts in real dollars, combined with the soaring costs of health insurance. Last year the cuts for 2004 meant the loss of over $2,000,000 in federal funding to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. How much will we lose this year because of the cuts of nearly 1%?

We are now updating our understanding and consensus on the Long Term Care system for people who are disabled or frail elderly. This is the largest part of the human services budget. We are also updating our knowledge on local taxes that are increasingly essential to support services that are not appropriately funded by our state government. We have advocated at the state level, also. The League of Women Voters has always supported progressive forms of taxation. However, we realize that "the buck stops here" and you who serve in county government must make hard decisions about the well-being of your citizens. We strongly believe that county government must provide greatly increased resources. Our League members will have a renewed understanding of these major issues and we urge all of you, as public officials, to educate the public about the basic reasons for this crisis.

We are now aware of the 155 frail elderly citizens, the over 270 individuals with developmental disabilities, the 219 people with physical disabilities and at least 150 people with mental illness on waiting lists. We know that some agencies have eliminated staff positions through attrition and others have cut the hours of their employees to 80% of full time. We have learned of the stress of workers who are trying to serve as many people in a safe and effective way with less time to do so. We have learned that agencies have been able to give raises, only if employees have higher co-pays and deductibles, and even then health insurance premiums may increase, negating wage increases. We have learned of workers who work two (and even three) jobs and others who have left the system to seek employment with higher compensation.

We know that service providers for children are increasing "case-loads" and still have longer waiting lists. Children and their families are not being served when they need help and others are being underserved. The cuts may seem small, but added to the erosion from inflationary cuts, they are devastating to staff and to children. For example, the Rainbow Project's Children of Violent Homes program had to be eliminated because of loss of funding. The proposed budget eliminates the Teen Parenting Program offered by Family Enhancement and The Urban League. Other proposed cuts include Family Services and PICADA drug and alcohol information and referral, as well as funding for half-way houses for the treatment of AODA clients. Services like these may save money in the long run. Are we to be "pennywise and pound-foolish" in Dane County? It would seem so.

We cannot ignore our most vulnerable citizens. We must not place the fiscal burden for their care on the people who choose human services as a career. We must educate our taxpayers about the reasons for the crisis and the need for a humane response. We pledge to do our part to meet this public policy challenge.