Cuts in health, human services and education

It"s Friday morning, just a few minutes before 8 a.m., and 21-year-old David Hankins impatiently poses for a quick photograph with his mother. He is ready to head into the packaging department at American Fasteners in Avon, where he works three and a half hours a day sorting and counting screws, bolts and rivets. David, who has Down Syndrome, is due to start work at 8. He walks away from the photographer more than once, and glances at his watch repeatedly. He is anxious to get to work. The General Assembly should be just as anxious to take on the job of fixing Indiana"s budget shortfall, says David"s family and other advocates for children, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Through the first 11 months of fiscal year 2001-2002, the state has collected almost $290 million less in taxes than expected. In May alone, state revenue came in over $110 million below expectations, a dismal report that Gov. Frank O"Bannon"s office says may be the worst monthly tally ever. Even before the disappointing May numbers came in, O"Bannon had already announced $450 million in cuts in health, human services and education.

Without a legislative fix coming out of the special session called by the governor, advocates say they expect more cuts to come soon. And they say people like David will feel the pain of those cuts. "The time has come for us all to recognize that the fiscal problem is real, and that real people are being hurt," says Clara Anderson, president of Indiana Coalition for Human Services. "If the Legislature does not act soon, the worst is yet to come."

Programs that provide home health care for disabled persons and prescription drug services for seniors have already been scaled back. "If additional cuts in these life sustaining programs are made, the consequences will be terrible and life threatening for many citizens across Indiana," says Nancy Griffin of AARP. "Senior citizens cannot afford for the General Assembly to wait any longer to address the state budget crisis."

Some of that sought-after budget relief was contained in House Bill 1001, which passed the House of Representatives last week. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it will be reviewed first by the Senate Finance Committee. Along with significant restructuring of state taxes to provide breaks for businesses and lessen the impact of property tax reassessment on home owners, the bill in its current form would provide some help for the budget crisis in the form of increased sales, cigarette and gambling taxes.

Statehouse observers voice skepticism about the chances of the Republican-controlled Senate passing any legislation that significantly increases revenue, i.e. taxes, just a few months before the November election. But advocates hoping for budget relief point to Indiana residents like David Hankins as examples of how vital full funding for state services can be. For five years, David has been on a waiting list to receive a Medicaid waiver, a status that would allow him to qualify for assisted living services. Over 7,000 other Hoosiers are on that waiting list.

"Like most young people, David would like eventually to be on his own and have his own place," says his mother. "I don"t think it would cost that much, he would just need someone to check on him in the evening and some help with transportation."

The brief photo session concludes at 8 sharp, and David heads into his job on a dead run. His mother watches him go and smiles. "He"s getting to the place where he can be a taxpayer like anyone else," she says. "We just need a little help."

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