Saturday, April 9, 2011

A student's paper on Human Services budget cuts

Here is another letter to the governor from a student who is concerned about cuts to the Department of Human Services.

I am writing you in regards to your budget cuts to the human services areas. It is not right that other areas are not being as harshly impacted as the human services area. We need to keep the human services portion funded to help the thousands of people in need. Currently, our nation is not in economic standing and I understand that; however, cutting the budget in these areas is only going to cause more strain to the already struggling families. They need the extra assistance to help with their depression, anxiety, and other disorders that are becoming prevalent during the difficult time.

Without child care assistance or after school programs being funded, working parents will not have good choices for their children. These programs allow them to have somewhere safe to go that can also be educational. Unfortunately, many of these children could possibly end up on the streets getting into drugs and other criminal acts without these places to go. Also, the cut would create a huge jump in the unemployment rate in our state. Human services cover a large percentage of our job market in Illinois. The larger budget cut will cause many to lose their jobs and even force a lot of the agencies to shut down. Where are the people to go that need help?

People that have addictions to drugs and alcohol or the mentally ill are going to seek treatment in the places that are convenient, comfortable, and close to home. What are they going to do if there is no agency there for them to go to? What happens when suicide rates increase? It seems like we are just forgetting about these people. They need to feel secure somewhere so that they can stop turning to the drugs and alcohol. Along with them, what about the people who are coping with domestic violence? They are not going to travel long distances to seek treatment. Are we suggesting they continue to be abused?

With these budget cuts, we would only be harming Illinois’ economic status more than it already is. The loss of jobs would cause unemployment rates to skyrocket. Those that need the treatment will not have anywhere to go anymore causing them to continue to worsen.

I would like to ask you, why are human services being hit the hardest? A cut of $500 million has already been made to this section, so why do we need to continue taking from it? I just hope that you can reconsider these cuts and look at other areas to cut from. We really need to help those in need and try to improve our economic status rather than making it worse.

And here is some of my reaction, as I thought about this letter, and several others like it I've received from the students in this class.

I tend to favor empirical evidence, but such evidence is not always the best way to change a person’s mind about something. That said, you do reflect on the $500 billion cut coming out of Human Services.  By my estimates based on data I found at the State Comptroller’s website, I guess Human Services gets about $4.3 billion, or about 14% of the General Revenue Fund. If we need to make cuts in spending of about $5 billion, and a proportionate degree of those cuts need to come from General Revenue, then a fair cut might be $700 million from Human Services (that would be 14% of $5 billion).  I don’t know if we really need to cut $5 billion, but if we do, the $500 billion may not be enough. Bigger slices of the state budget pie include Healthcare and Family Services ($8.5 billion and 28% of General Revenue) and the State Board of Education ($6.5 billion and 21% of General Revenue.  Higher education ($3.4 billion, 11% of General Revenue) is also something that might get steeper cuts so that cuts to human services might remain below $700 million.

Here is a question for you.  If the state cuts $5 billion from the budget, including $700 million from Human Services, does the state just lose that money?  Where does it go?  One possibility is that the cuts in spending allow us to have lower taxes.  The money stays in the hands of private citizens in Illinois, instead of going to service providers and clients.

The question to ask then is, if we let people of Illinois keep $5 billion and we don’t take it away from them in taxes, will that do more good for the state’s economy than would be done if we took the money from them in taxes and spent it in things like human services, higher education, healthcare, family services, and education?  I personally think if we kept that $5 billion in private hands and didn’t cycle it through taxes and state spending we would see some slight economic improvement compared to the taxing and spending. There would be more demand for goods and services (all that money in the hands of individuals who would spend more, rather than spend on state priorities).  

But I ask myself, would this increased economic growth really make life better, and would it be widespread, or concentrated in the wealthiest households, and if only the wealthiest people in Illinois keep those dollars that would have gone to public priorities, will they actually invest that money in Illinois or spend it in Illinois, or will it flow out of the state?  Upon reflecting on these questions, I get a hunch that the quality of life and the morality of our society would erode, and I think in the long-term, we’ll be better off if we pull $5 billion out of the citizens through taxes and fees and put it into investments in education and health services, or support the most unfortunate with human services. 

Also, I don’t think money and wealth is the end toward which we should be steering.  We should be directing our social institutions such as our state government toward maximizing our happiness and increasing fairness or justice in our society. Whether we keep money in private hands or cycle it through government spending is a means toward this end, and so is economic growth. 

I mention this because your letter is very much about the harm of cutting the spending on human services. And yet, we also need to consider the “harm” of maintaining spending on human services.  Considering the alternatives will allow us to address them.  Yes, we will all suffer if we continue to pay full price for state services without collecting money to pay for these services, because to make up the deficits, we must eventually either cut services or raise taxes.  Facing this reality helps us consider which we value more, higher taxes with services maintained at their current level, or current tax levels with severe service cuts, or even lower tax levels with even more drastic cuts in services. 

Many people still think most state spending is wasted, or lost in corruption. Such people demand lower taxes and cuts to state spending.  I know intelligent people who work for the state who have told me they honestly believe 20% to 40% of state spending is wasted money, lost in corruption or stupid programs that fail to achieve anything of value. I marvel at this.  Is it really plausible that $7 billion of the General Revenue fund is lost to corruption, waste, mismanagement, and that sort of thing?  If we could target our cuts, is it plausible that we could find $1 billion in cost savings in the $4.3 billion spent in human services that would only target waste, fraud, and abuse, and this targeted cut would leave truly needed and valuable services untouched? 

Taking our university as an example, with an approximately $50 million budget, I doubt we lose more than $1 million to gross incompetence and corruption and waste in any given year (about 2%). I can think of some drastic cuts I could make and some streamlining I could do, that would, I think, give us better education quality and lower costs, but even in my fantasies of doing this I would not cut more than $1 million (2%) from our budget.  I'm intimately familiar with the university's budget, and there just isn't enough waste, fraud, abuse, stupidity, or extravagance in the campus to give us the possibility of trimming more than about 2% to 4% from the budget before we start to diminish the quality of education our students receive. 

Your letter anticipates this argument that we could somehow cut spending in human services by hundreds of millions simply by going after non-essential services and waste. You do this by focusing on the sort of misery we will actually get by cutting the $500-$700 billion proposed in the austere state budget for FY 2012. You argue against such cuts.  In essence, you are arguing for higher taxes, because you suggest that we get good value from public spending on human services (and education, and health services, and so forth), and we’re better off paying for these things, rather than cutting them, even if that means we need to raise more money from the voting, taxpaying public.

1 comment:

0s0-Pa said...

Not a fan of these budget cuts, especially when it probably means a downgrade in the quality of human services management.