Statement for Dane County Public Hearing
October 25, 2004

The League of Women Voters of Dane County has a long history of concern about the quality of life in Dane County. Our pride in Dane County has led to our support for environmental quality as well as caring about the people in need of help. The greatest test of a society is the well being of the most powerless citizens, whether they are children, elderly or adults with disabilities. We will address these issues in our testimony.

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 at least 15 years, creating a situation where the base is eroding and agencies are cutting staff to survive. 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. We see a system in crisis due to budget cuts and inflation.

The Long Term Care system for people who are disabled or frail elderly is the largest part of the human services budget. We are aware that local taxes are increasingly essential to support the services that are not appropriately funded by our state government. We have advocated at the state level for increased funding because we have always supported more 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 now have a renewed understanding of these major issues and we urge all of you, as public officials, to help educate the public about this crisis in human services and the need for us to pay moderately higher taxes to meet the needs of vulnerable children and adults. The mill rate will still be lower than it was in 2004.

We are now aware of 155 frail elderly citizens, the over 270 individuals with develop-mental disabilities, the 219 people with physical disabilities and at least 150 people with mental illness on waiting lists. We also know that some agencies have eliminated staff positions and others have cut the hours of their employees to 80% of full time. Some agencies have cut both staff positions and hours. 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 any small 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. It is difficult to maintain safety and to meet individual needs with fewer staff, fewer staff hours and high staff turnover. The quality of care is diminished.

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. Some of the cuts may seem small, but added to the erosion from inflationary cuts, they are devastating to staff and to children.

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.

Thank you, Carol Kiemel, President, League of Women Voters of Dane County