The Maine Legislature is considering a package of budget cuts. Many of the cuts suggested for the Department of Health and Human Services will most certainly cost Maine far more money than it will save. And it will take us many steps backward.

The non-strategic, 10 percent, across-the-board cuts are reckless. They will begin to dismantle the system of care and the safety net that Maine has worked very hard to create for its most vulnerable people. The proposed 24 percent room and board subsidy to disabled people living in group homes is also a shortsighted move. Dumping people from stability into homelessness is egregious and, as a method to save money, is a poorly planned strategy as costs will skyrocket when people are displaced.

Right now in Maine we have a nationally respected system of care. We have carefully evolved from institutional care to efficient and effective home-based community care. Over the past seven years, strategic budget cuts have caused some damage, but also increased efficiency. At this point, there is no more efficiency to gain, only a reversal of progress and, ultimately, gross inefficiency.

The governor’s proposal will mean leaving 66 cents out of Maine for every 33 cents we cut. When we serve people in the community, we serve people in the most efficient and effective manner, using mostly federal money to do so. When we fail to serve people, which these cuts will cause us to do, people will be forced into crises and into our emergency system of care — the most expensive and least efficient way to serve people.

Unfortunately for Maine, the cost of this inefficient service will be borne by Maine entirely. As a taxpayer, I see this change as fiscally irresponsible. As a parent and person who cares about my neighbors, I see this as unacceptable.

And it will do more than that to damage the Maine economy.

These cuts may cause thousands of job losses:

• Undermining thousands of supportive living arrangements that work. According to the DHHS commissioner’s 2008 report, there are 4,800 people receiving developmental services each month, and 2,498 people receiving home and community support. This includes 477 in shared living, 236 in family centered support, 285 living independently, and 1,500 in agency operated homes.

• Thousands of job losses by people working in this service sector. There are 679 agency-operated homes in Maine, employing an estimated 4,000 direct support professionals. In addition, approximately 1,000 direct support professionals provide community support and shared-living services equaling a total of 5,000 dedicated individuals working to provide essential services to one of our most vulnerable populations.

• Millions of dollars in lost wages. This is a $280 million sector of the Maine economy, of which wages to Maine citizens represent $210 million.

• Loss of federal matching funds. Millions of dollars from the federal government come to Maine to match our investment in our most vulnerable citizens. MaineCare match is 2:1. It is unconscionable for us to abandon those much-needed resources.

• Parents being forced to quit jobs that contribute to the economy. Who will take care of developmentally disabled people if services are cut? Their parents. If I have to give up my job it will affect the financial stability of my family and my nonprofit organization’s stability, and Maine will lose my contributions as a taxpayer and a professional in an important field.

• Dramatic increases in crisis costs, including use of emergency rooms, crisis facilities, EMT, rescue and police.

• Expensive out of state placements. The cost of these placements caused Maine to create its own group homes to save money. We’ll be reinventing the wheel, but this time at greater expense.

• The abandonment of developmental disabled individuals at state offices due to a lack of support services, akin to the recent “safe haven” occurrences in Nebraska where reportedly 80 percent of the children abandoned were either developmentally or mentally disabled.

• A reversal of a well thought out 100-year plan to reach a point of community inclusion. Consequences include a loss of human hope and the loss of the betterment of society.

It is time for the Legislature to carefully raise revenues to cure the structural and perpetual problems in our budget. Recommendations include a temporary increase in the state sales tax, and a tax on cigarettes, alcohol and soda. Please don’t underestimate Mainers’ willingness to share with one another, especially now.

We will all pay far more if we don’t.

Cullen Ryan is chairman of the Maine Coalition for Housing and Quality Services and executive director of Community Housing of Maine in Portland.


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