Monday, May 25, 2009

State Budget Cuts Will Hurt County Health Departments
Story from MLive

With unemployment on the rise, residents who have lost insurance benefits are turning to county health departments for help.

But with Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposing to cut $349 million from Michigan's budget, they may need to turn elsewhere for help.

Taking a considerable hit in cuts that heavily target programs for low-income people, is the Michigan Department of Human Services, which will have $92.4 million cut from its budget.

The largest cut to DHS -- $20 million -- will come in subsidies provided to low-income families to help them pay for child care. Emergency services allocations to local DHS offices will be cut $2.3 million and employment and training support services provided to participants in the Jobs Education and Training program will be cut $10.4 million.

Licensing of day care, adult foster care and children's welfare will be cut $3.5 million.

There will be $10 million slashed statewide for mental health services and local officials are waiting anxiously to see how those cuts will affect their operations.

Dave Parnin, clinical director for Muskegon County's community mental health department, said demand for services are at an all-time high, given the economic struggles facing West Michigan.

He said it's a bad time to be dealing with state budget cuts -- especially since a bulk of his department's funding comes from Lansing.

The mental health department offers free or affordable psychiatric services, counseling and case management for children and adults.

"We cannot have a waiting list," Parnin said. "We can't say, 'We'll call you later.' Our staff has not increased at all. How do you keep up?"

With the state cuts set to take effect in July, Parnin said he hopes his department doesn't need to reduce its staffing to keep its $52 million annual budget in the black.

"We certainly hope not," he said. "We have not had to do that in the past. But we'll see what the details look like."

The department has 300 employees.

Parnin said his department is working with lawmakers to learn exactly how much will be cut from the mental health department's share of state revenues.

Legislative leaders and the Granholm administration have been searching for ways to patch a budget shortfall that has grown to $1.3 billion in recent weeks as income and business taxes have come in lower than January forecasts predicted.

The cuts come at the worst time for services like community mental health.

"There's a prevailing sense of hopelessness for a lot of people," he said. "I think we're all hoping this economy turns around."

The mental health department handles Medicaid cases for roughly 35,000 county residents. It also offers free services for people who don't have the means to pay for them.

For example, if someone without insurance needs mental health services, the department provides a free screening to determine the client's needs.

Local DHS officials also are waiting to see how the state cuts will affect their operation and services.

Jane Johnson, local director of Muskegon County's DHS department, deferred questions to Michigan DHS spokeswoman Colleen Steinman.

"Obviously, we're doing everything we can to minimize those impacts," Steinman said. "We want to make sure the safety net remains intact."

Like other state workers, DHS workers will be taking furloughs, meaning there could be longer waits for appointments.

Meanwhile, Ken Kraus, director of Public Health Muskegon County, said he's scratching his head over the latest round of budget cuts.

"If the state keeps cutting its share, I don't know what's going to happen," Kraus said. "People are going to be harmed before they decide to take some sort of action."

In the past year, the Muskegon County Health Department has handled an outbreak of Shigella, an intestinal ailment, and most recently the so-called Swine Flu.

The department receives $3 million from the state to handle restaurant inspections, immunizations, sexually transmitted disease control, sewage management and other services. Its total budget is $7.9 million.

It is unknown at this point how the state's budget cuts will affect Catholic Social Services, Catholic Charities West Michigan -- an organization that has received a number of state grants in the past to help low-income people.

The nonprofit agency in downtown Muskegon hosts more than 30 programs, including Loaves and Fishes food and baby pantries, substance abuse counseling and foster care and domestic adoptions.

A clearer picture hopefully will be in view within the next 30 days, said Deborah McCormack, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities West Michigan.

"It's difficult because we don't know how much funding cuts will affect our agency," said McCormack. "A lot of our programs are about family preservation and how to provide them with additional support, such as parenting and housing. We'll try real hard to keep those programs going."

According to 2007 statistics, 85 percent of Catholic Social Service's clientele lived under the poverty level or are considered "working poor."

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