`On Jan. 3, the 62nd Montana Legislature convened in Helena to adopt a budget for the next biennium.
This is no easy task. Fortunately, Montana remains one of the few states that continue to operate in the black with money in the bank.
And, the economic picture is getting better every day. On Feb. 2, the Legislative Fiscal Division reported that at the end of this fiscal year there will be a $368 million ending fund balance. Or, as we say, in Montana’s savings account. Other economic indicators reflect improvements as well, including the highest wage revenue collection in the month of January in Montana’s history.
Republicans continue to ignore these optimistic forecasts. Instead, they are focused on an agenda to slash and burn the health and human services provided to the most vulnerable citizens based on false pretenses. As of Feb. 11, the Department of Public Health and Human Services budget has been cut by an astonishing $147 million including federal matching funds. These cuts will impact our neighbors, our children, our seniors, our veterans and people with disabilities.
The Republican members of the Appropriation Subcommittee on Health and Human Services have cut the governor’s proposed balanced budget for such items as:
• Funding to keep developmentally disabled people in their homes and communities;
• Federal funding for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program that helps low income families heat their homes;
• Funding that goes to provide health care through the voter-approved Healthy Montana Kids Initiative;
• Funding for seniors living in their homes and in nursing homes and for the prescription drug program called Big Sky RX;
• Funding that provides clothing to children in foster care; and
• Funding for Women, Infants and Children program that will reduce access to fresh fruits and vegetables from farmer’s markets.
The Republicans on the subcommittee have also gutted the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention program by stripping all funding from this program that has had remarkable results and still has work that needs to be done.
Most remarkably, they want to shut down Montana’s veterans homes and force our heroes to seek out private care with lesser services instead of honoring the promise Montana voters made when we voted to support Montana veteran nursing homes.
The list goes on including cutting essential core services to Montana children and elderly.
What the Republican members of the subcommittee have done boggles the mind, and it’s not because we don’t have the money, it seems to be their values. To be blunt, it just makes our children and elderly “sick, hungry and cold.”
Don’t let this action continue. Please contact your legislator today and tell them to restore the funding to the Department of Public Health and Human Services. Call (406) 444-4800 and ask to give a message to your legislator.
Montana children, families and veterans deserve better.
(State Rep. Trudi Schmidt is a Democrat from Great Falls. Rep. Tony Belcourt is a Democrat from Box Elder.)