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State governments swing the budget ax
These cuts will kill

May 10, 2002 | Page 5

CUTS, CUTS and more cuts. That's what state governments across the country have in store as they try to come up with plans to balance their budgets after the recession caused shortfalls everywhere. Though the details vary from state to state, one theme is the same: the first in line for the chopping block are state workers and programs that provide needed social services for the poor.

As ELIZABETH SCHULTE reports, Illinois Gov. George Ryan is leading the way in slashing services for the most vulnerable--from children to the mentally ill.

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FAMILIES WITH relatives at the Lincoln Developmental Center in downstate Illinois know the impact of George Ryan's budget cuts firsthand. The state's downsizing has already proven deadly.

Four residents at the facility--which serves about 400 severely developmentally disabled adults--died in March. They had been moved from a part of the center that cares for especially fragile residents who require special medical attention and equipment--to an area where the staff had no training in caring for them.

And if Ryan and the state bureaucrats who answer to him get their way, there's more trouble to come.

Ryan's Department of Public Health has slated Lincoln for drastic funding cuts--from an annual figure of $35 million now to just $11 million by June 30. That will mean layoffs of some 500 workers and moving 100 residents.

State officials claim that they're targeting Lincoln not to save money, but because of worries about deteriorating care at the facility. But any problems at Lincoln are the state's fault to begin with.

AFSCME Local 425 spokesperson Dan Senter, who worked at Lincoln for 35 years, said that, at one time, the center was considered a model for facilities around the country. "We didn't fall on our own, we got pulled there," Senter told Socialist Worker.

Services declined after the state assigned a new director, whose experience was in corrections. Workers were forced to work double shifts, sometimes two or three days in a row. And now, after years of neglect, Ryan is blaming Lincoln's workers. "They pointed the finger at staff, and then had the gall to blame the parents and guardians," Pat Brown, of the Lincoln Parents Association, told Socialist Worker.

Pat and his wife Linda depend on Lincoln's services for their son Jeff, who has been at Lincoln for five years. "Ryan says money isn't the issue," Pat said. "But we think the bottom line is that money is the issue. The long-term strategic plan is to downsize these state-run facilities. When Lincoln got in trouble, they thought they could do it in one fell swoop."

Pat and other parents question the state's budget priorities. "There's an awful amount of money disappearing in places that you have to question," Pat said. "Legislators spent $15,000 for a press box in a school district near me. Meanwhile, we have people with needs."

What happens at Lincoln is critical, because Ryan is going after other state facilities. "That's the move," Senter said. "It has been for years."

But workers and patients' families have come together to fight Ryan's attack. They've gathered 10,000 signatures on petitions to stop the downsizing at Lincoln. And in January, some 1,500 parents and union and community members held a protest at a local high school.

For now, further transfers of patients have been blocked in court, although the layoffs could continue. More action is needed if we're going to stop Ryan from slicing and dicing his way through our social safety net.

Picking on the most vulnerable

GEORGE RYAN should pick on someone his own size. His budget plan for the coming year, which begins in June, is an all-out attack on social services. Here are a few of Ryan's "solutions" to the state's $1.3 billion budget shortfall:

--Cut payments to nursing homes, doctors, dentists and pharmacists who provide care to the poor through the Medicaid program. Nursing homes will lose $195 million in Medicaid reimbursements under the plan.

--Slash $19.7 million to state funding from elementary and secondary education and universities next year.

--Eliminate 22 grant programs for such things as school breakfast programs, early reading and math programs, disabled programs and bilingual education.

--Cut $65 million from subsidies for child care programs for the working poor--passing the cost on with increased co-payments.

"I probably would have to quit work and get on public aid," said Malisa Humphrey, a single mother of two, who uses state-subsidized child care for her sons while she earns $14,400 a year as a nursing assistant at a nursing home. Humphrey was one of 3,000 people who attended a rally sponsored by the Chicago-based Day Care Action Council of Illinois in April.

Many of the parents who depend on subsidized child care are working to comply with federal welfare-to-work requirements--the very people that Washington politicians are targeting for even stricter measures in their new welfare "reform" schemes.

The working poor will be caught in the middle.

Ryan wants state workers to pay

"EVERYBODY HAS to take a cut," George Ryan told reporters after announcing his budget plan. But Ryan wants state workers to take the biggest cut of all.

Earlier this year, Ryan tried to force AFSCME Council 31, which represents 45,000 state workers, to accept a wage freeze and health insurance changes. He also demanded that the union accept a one-day furlough without pay.

When AFSCME refused, Ryan threatened, "I will never understand union leaders who would rather see their members laid off than consider temporary contract changes that would allow people to keep their jobs." Now he's planning to lay off 3,800 state workers.

Union members plan to rally May 7 at the capitol building as the state's General Assembly votes on the proposed budget. We have to fight to stop Ryan from making workers pay for his budget problems.

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