Vermont Budget Cuts Aiming For Drug Treatment and Family Services
Due to issues related to declining tax revenue, many state governments have recently been forced into making serious budget cuts, and social service programs are often the first to go. This can often have devastating consequences as people dependent on that relief have to go without, and organizations doing a lot of good in their communities have fewer options to get funding. This can create a lot of challenges, as decreased funds mean fewer people are getting help.
Vermont’s Budget Cuts
Vermont is one of many states that is currently making severe budget cuts. This year, Governor Peter Shumlin and state legislators have come to an agreement to cut $31.28 million from the state budget. In the governor’s words, revenues have not climbed up as much as he had hoped, leading to “these tough decisions.” Heath care is one of the largest areas to experience cuts, and alcohol and drug treatments are especially vulnerable.
Under these proposed cuts, substance abuse treatment programs will loose $673,000, the state’s Children and Family Department will loose $3.8 million a year, and organizations that accept Medicaid patients will not receive a promised 1.6 percent increase in funding. This will make it particularly difficult for community organizations that provide health care to people who receive government-funded health insurance for the poor and disabled.
While private insurance can simply charge more to compensate for lost revenue, agencies serving poor people are forced to cut back. Often, human service cuts end up costing the people who use them even more then was cut, due to a loss of matching funds from the federal government. For example, according to Associated Press journalist Dave Gram, taking $500,000 out of a fund for developed disabled residences can end up costing these programs $1.15 million.
Challenges In Vermont
A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that the number of homelessness in Vermont has risen by 25 percent in one year, from 1,160 to 1,453. A 2010 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also showed that Vermont has the highest rate of illicit drug use in the nation, with rates of marijuana, heroin, and prescription drug abuse rising dramatically.
There are a number of people working to create innovative solutions to deal with these crises. One such group is The Junction, a teen run support group that trains teens to give advice to friends they might not be willing to hear from adults. A new state program established last legislative season encourages more drug offenders to seek treatment rather then jail time.
Earlier this year, the governor made opiate addiction the center of his State of the State address, indicating a focus on helping addicts get treatment. Thus, lawmakers do see a value to these treatment programs, but yet these programs will be unable to live up to their potential with these cuts.
Revising The Budget
Recognizing these risks, on August 14, 2014, some changes were made to the original propose, as the legislator changed the governor’s original proposal. Youth in Transition, which runs the Junction, saw its funding restored. While creating a government budget is complex work involving a lot of hard decisions, government officials and lawmakers need to be aware of how their cuts can have devastating consequences on poor and vulnerable citizens.
Substance abuse wrecks the lives and communities of the people who suffer from it, and so abuse treatment is an indispensable part of any functioning society. It can only be hoped that these cuts are temporary, and will be restored soon.