Forum Addresses Funding For Social Services

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By: James Kinsella
Published: 02/03/12

 Things are getting better, but gaps still remain.

That was the message last Friday from members of the Cape & Islands legislative delegation who addressed representatives of social service organizations as well as other officials at an annual Cape state budget forum.

The Community Action Committee of Cape Cod & Islands Inc. hosted the event at its Hyannis office on Enterprise Road. More than 50 people attended.

State Senate President Therese Murray, a Plymouth Democrat, who represents part of Cape Cod, said the state budget officials are forecasting a 6.9 percent increase in revenue.

But Sen. Murray said the state still needs to close an estimated $1.6 billion gap to balance its budget for the pending fiscal year.

The state, she said, is looking at a $100 million reduction in Medicaid funding, and also by order of the courts must provide $150 million in health care funding for illegal aliens.

The good news, Sen. Murray said, is that the state’s economy continues to improve since the recession hit hard beginning several years ago.

“We’re doing better than every state other than Alaska and Texas, and they have natural resources,” she said.
Sen. Murray said the jobless rate has fallen to 6.9 percent, and that the state has the highest bond rating that it has ever possessed, resulting in the state saving $400 million on interest rates.

Two wild cards still can play a major role in the state’s budget, Sen. Murray said.

One is federal funding as determined by Congress. The other is how the state’s exports to western Europe fare. If demand drops in that region of the world, it has a direct effect on Massachusetts.

State Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D - Cape and Islands) said the governor’s budget included increases in a number of areas, including $145 million in Chapter 70 school aid money and $4 million for regional housing authorities.

But Sen. Wolf said the budget also included cutbacks, including 12 percent in a prescription drug program, 24 percent for elder intervention services, and a significant reduction in funding for local tourism councils.

State Representative Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) said the state was making progress from three years ago, when state revenue was falling precipitously.

But of the $145 million in increased Chapter 70 money from the state, State Representative David Vieira (R-Falmouth) said, nothing is coming to the four Upper Cape towns.

Rep. Vieira further said he would oppose another budget proposal, the proposed combination of the state’s community colleges into a unified statewide system. “Let’s still have local control,” he said.

His comments were echoed by the president of Cape Cod Community College, Kathleen Schatzberg, who is retiring this year. Local people, Ms. Schatzberg said, know the needs of the community that the college is intended to serve.
State Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich) spoke in favor of funding used to battle substance abuse. Every dollar spent in that cause, Rep. Hunt said, saves $7 in incarceration and other costs faced by the state.

A representative of the Cape Cod Neighborhood Support Coalition asked about generating revenue to battle substance abuse by raising taxes on items such as alcohol.

In reply, Sen. Murray said, “The people spoke. It was a ballot initiative. They don’t want their alcohol taxed.”
Frederic Presbrey, executive director of the Housing Assistance Corporation, said he was glad to see a $25 million increase in the governor’s proposals for affordable housing purposes. But because Mr. Presbrey said the money is targeted toward moving people receiving housing assistance from motels into other housing, he is not getting his hopes up for the Cape, which already has taken that action.

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