Monday, May 24, 2010

Senate Democrats Protest Republican Budget Cuts to Children's Services

A special shout-out to the Senate Democrats, who stood up to speak for the children last week when they protested the Senate Republican budget for the Dept. of Human Services. As you may or may not know, we are under court order to get our Child Protective Services up to a passing grade, and not only would the Republican budget put us at risk of being found in contempt of court (which would cost the state money in fines, etc.), it leaves children vulnerable as workers cannot handle the case loads they have now.

When Republicans say they want to "cut spending" - this is the spending they are talking about. Kids. Abused and neglected kids. Hungry kids. Kids in danger. How cold is the Republican movement that they would put children in danger, all to serve their anti-tax, anti-government ideology? This cold. They don't care about the well-being of defenseless children. And to top it off, apparently Sen. Bill Hardiman is already practicing to be a Congressman here - he increased spending by $20 million for private services. That government spending is A-OK when it goes to benefit your rich campaign donors, but other than that, too bad, you kids are on your own.

Gretchen Whitmer and her colleagues had something to say about it:

Transcript from the Journals:

I rise to encourage a “no” vote on this budget bill. I am appalled by this budget. This budget more than any other that we work on has the biggest impact on vulnerable children in our state. What you have done to it is unconscionable. Currently, our DHS workers are doing their best to balance 700- to 800-person caseloads per DHS worker. Recognizing the jeopardy in which this massive imbalance places not only on the kids of our state, but also our workers who are trying to protect them. The Governor recommended increasing the workforce by 527. You have slashed that by 376, fracturing a system that is already stressed.

The result? Well, first, the enormous caseloads that puts kids in jeopardy. God forbid another child falls through the cracks and dies in the state of Michigan. You have no one to blame but yourselves. Second, this almost guarantees that we violate the consent decree, which likely renders our state in contempt of court, possibly subjecting us to fines and penalties. This could actually cost us money.

Additionally, not only that, but you’ve further hurt the meager number of frontline caseworkers who remain with an additional 3 percent cut. If that’s not appalling enough, you have the audacity to put in over $20 million of spending increases in this budget, the bulk of which goes to private groups. With your cuts that are going to directly impact kids, how the heck do you justify that?

I guess it’s good news if you’re a constituent of the subcommittee chairman or if you reside in the Ehlers congressional district. It is downright scary for the kids in the rest of the state.

Besides the staffing issue, Sen. Scott added this:

Other reasons to vote “no” include the lack of funding for the JET Plus, which could threaten future federal emergency TANF contingency funding; the imposition of new costs on counties under the child welfare system; the undermining of training and support service to child day-care providers; and the imposition of a new privatized call center, which will add virtually no assistance to clients or relief to caseworkers.

For these reasons, I will vote “no,” and I hope in conference, we can do a better job of living up to our obligation, both legally and morally to the children of this state.

Senator Jacobs knocked down the myths surrounding the Republican complaints about the unions surrounding this field.

As part of this budget, there is a funding prohibition against the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council, as well as a prohibition for collection of dues on behalf of Michigan Home Based Child Care Council. I stand here today to be somewhat of a truth squad because I think it is important that what has been described as questionable and forced unionization of home-based child care workers is not that at all.

The fact of the matter is that the union was ratified through an election process that was entirely proper and legal. Ninety-eight percent of the workers who voted in the election voted in favor of unionization. At no point was the validity of that election challenged through the normal procedures provided by our labor laws.

Senators Cherry and Basham also rose in protest along these same lines, and Senator Switalski tried for compromise, cutting other areas to fund the need for more workers, but once again "bipartisanship" is nowhere to be found in our Senate. Funny how "bipartisanship" becomes a one-way street when Republicans are in the majority.

The answer is always "no", even to the children. Hardiman got up and mumbled something about his earmark being "reform", and is very telling about the simplicity of Republican plans to reform the government. You see, "reform" is when you funnel the taxpayers money to the friends of the Republicans. That's not government spending. Oh no. Of course not. That's the Republican investment plan for our state - investing in the Republican Party. < /bitter snark >

I'm not sure how this all plays out with what happened in the revenue estimating conference that occurred on Friday, so we will see what the final tally is when they get done shuffling the money around. The hope is that the House will stand up for kids as well... but if they don't, thanks go out to the Senate Dems for at least trying.