Legislative Wrap-up: Social Services

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Find out how state budget cuts to Medicaid, child care and cash assistance may affect Arizona’s most vulnerable populations. Guests include Jacki Taylor, CEO of Save the Family; Eddie Sissons, Executive Director of Arizona Foundation for Behavioral Health; and Timothy Schmaltz, director of the Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition.

Ted Simons: Social services in Arizona took some big cuts in the last legislative session as lawmakers worked to balance the state budget. Health care, child care subsidies cash assistance all suffered. Here now to talk about the impact of those budget cuts is Timothy Schmaltz, director of protecting Arizona's family, a nonpartisan alliance of social and health community agencies. Also here is Jacki Taylor, CEO of save the family foundation of Arizona, and Eddie Sissons, executive director of the Arizona foundation for behavioral health. Good to have you aall here. Thanks for joining us. There's so much to cover here. Let's go service by service. Eddie, let's start with AHCCCS. 520 some-odd million dollars cut. The impact?

Eddie Sissions: I think it will have a significant impact. If CMS, the federal agency that oversees state Medicaid programs, AHCCCS is a Medicaid program, if they approve this, we'll see thousands of individuals lose health coverage. Our first population that could be -- have the door slammed shut could be as early as this Sunday, when we have individuals who have a medical expense spend-down. That's 5,000 people, gosh forbid if any of us have an accident - blow through our health insurance and have hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical costs. Those people will simply be one the path to bankruptcy.

Ted Simons: Describe -- give us a definition of this.

Eddie Sissons: It's basically a program that's targeted to those people who have high unexpected health crises in their lives. Sometimes they have no or very minimal health insurance, so if I really did have that horrible car accident and had just minimal health insurance or had just started my new job, and didn't have health insurance, I can rack up that bill fast. These are individuals who would have short-term health insurance through the AHCCCS program. It's a program that would sort of compromise a few years back.

Ted Simons: AHCCCS says dropping some 130, maybe thousand folks saves actually saves coverage for kids, for pregnant women, for the disabled, etc. How do you respond to that?

Timothy Schmaltz: The reality is that that they've done nothing but cut for the last three years. Kids care, kids care parents, they've cut child care subsidies, all kinds of emergency assistance. And in the end, you don't save any money. People -- the big question that nobody answers about all of these AHCCCS cuts, behavioral health cuts, frankly is, where do all these people go? At some point one person said they go to emergency rooms. That's the most expensive place. All of these cuts, frankly, are pennywise and pound foolish. They're an attack on families, they're -- they've cut vital services, they've abandoned families. Literally at a time when families needed a help up, and basically families were just abandoned in the middle of this recession.

Eddie Sissons: I think the other point, besides those who are facing the first door closing, we've got thousands of individuals who are called the childless adults. Individuals who particularly for our population, often are involved in behavioral health community who have episodes of homelessness, who have lost jobs, who are stranded. And those individuals will basically if they don't stay engaged and enrolled in the program, they will be off of the AHCCCS program. Totally.

Ted Simons: As far as homelessness and people we're seeing that, you know, have the complications in life, where do they go from here? What happens to them?

Jacki Taylor: They come to programs like ours, and we have all the tools to effectively get people out of homelessness, off cash assistance and on to independence and self-sufficiency. But by cutting these very basic supports, it cripples us in doing our work. Childcare is an excellent example. With the cuts -- the cash assistance cuts, we are severely limiting the amount of time that a person in poverty could access child care assistance, and without child care assistance it's impossible for them to even look for work, much less maintain work. If you can imagine as an example, if you are fortunate enough to get a $10 an hour job, which nets you $20,000 a year, you can spend as much as $10,000 a year on a licensed quality child care facility.

Ted Simons: The idea of the child care subsidies, how much has been cut, how many families are affected here.

Timothy Schmaltz: We're down 19,000 children. Just imagine every seat in the arena filled with a small child who is not getting child care. We're down 19,000 children. These are children of working parents, low-income working parents. It don't make any sense at all. As Jacki pointed out, it stops people from getting into the marketplace because we're denying this. And it's just crippled the other social -- it's one much those basic elements much helping people get back on their feet. So we're down 19,000 children, we've denied 16,000 children who have applied.

Ted Simons: The lawmakers will say that the time limit especially for this, cutting down the time I know it went from five to three, now it's from three to two, but just going three to two they say saves $8.5 million that can be used elsewhere. How do you respond?

Eddie Sissons: Well, I agree, it might be able to be used someplace else, but recognize the individual who comes into the welfare program, you don't get a lot of money, darling. This is not sitting home and watching soap operas. This barely getting by, and you need all those other supports. And what we also don't look at is that increasing percentages of people impacted are what are called child only households. If my adult daughter started having problems, I took over raising her children, then I would have -- I might have to at some point seek out some cash assistance. Now we're also limiting those grandparents.

Ted Simons: Because the grandparents are being included as far as wage earners, correct?

Eddie Sissons: That's right.

Ted Simons: Is it 300 some odd dollars a month?

Timothy Schmaltz: No, less than. 220 for two.

Ted Siomns: 220 for two?

Timothy Schmaltz: It was cut by 20%. We took the poorest of the poor and cut 20%. That's the main point here. What we've done is, we've devastated the safety net in Arizona. Under the guise of -- we don't have enough money and we've abandoned families who are very hurting. And some of us believe that budgets are moral documents. They're not just fiscal documents, they're moral documents. They reflect our values. And the last few years, we don't care about families. If you're down on your luck, tough.

Ted Simons: The idea that there's a 1.1 billion dollar budget, we had lawmakers coming in here on a weekly basis saying, we simply can't afford it. We had other lawmakers who would say that some of these programs make people too comfortable. They'll just stay on the program, they need encouragement to get off any kind of assistance, especially welfare assistance and these programs. Is that a valid argument?

Jacki Taylor: I would challenge any lawmaker to live on $220 a month are with two to three children. I think it's virtually impossible. I think that's a convenient excuse to make a case against cash assistance. Cash assistance is a tool that helps people get on their feet and move into self-sufficiency. It's certainly not a way that anyone can exist on a long-term basis without other income.

Eddie Sissons: Let me share another thing. What we find is as individuals come up to the time limit, it is five years now, the three year, and soon to be two. They can get a hardship exemption. What we find for those that are granted, the single largest reason is that the individual, either the parent or someone in the household, has a disability. Either physical or psychiatric disability. So what I would say under those circumstances, what are we doing to help that person overcome his or her disability, if they've got a disabled child and they want mom to work, are we doing respite care, are we doing something that helps her be able to go out to work and still care for that child? Or if she's got the disability, does she need to be on supplemental security income? What are we doing? Why are we just, sort of parking them there and saying, oh, you're bad for being there.

Ted Simons: Tim? We hear about fraud, and we hear about abuse all the time.

Timothy Schmaltz: Frankly, first -- to your first question, those are all old stereotypes that are full of the bigotry of the past. The fact is people swallow their pride to come on to public assistance, and they work very hard to get it. And during this recession, we've seen unemployment grow, we've seen food stamps grow, we've seen some of these basic programs grow. People are not taking advantage of this through fraud and abuse. In fact, the Goldwater institute, when they did their piglet study, didn't cite any real waste and fraud in any of the health welfare programs. They had one little paragraph. So the fraud and waste abuse is just old stereotypes and frankly, it's bad information.

Ted Simons: The idea of cash assistance, go back to this time limit thing, where now you can only be on it two years. One lawmaker, I won't -- one lawmaker said it wasn't meant to be open-ended or last forever. It was meant to be something as a stop gap, as a bridge to later in life, to get back to work, to get back to business. Is that -- is that valid?

Jacki Taylor: I think that is valid. And personally, I don't have a problem with a time limit, I think it's a good thing but I think it's become so restrictive and perscriptive in that time limit, it's not feasible for instance in the case after single mom who has no other resources, and two to three children, a two-year time limit is not sufficient to bridge that gap. She can't even -- I'll give you an example. At our center we have a stellar career development center. We are very effective at helping people seek and attain employment at above $10 an hour. That is our goal. But our mothers with small children who can't qualify for cash assistance can't even come and effectively utilize that center because there's no place to put the children.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, you wrote an op-ed piece, and you were talking about how it seemed like some lawmakers were mocking the poor, and there was scorn for the poor. These sorts of things. Waging war on the poor. That's pretty tough stuff.

Timothy Schmaltz: Yeah. Well, that's what's happened in the last three years. We have to kind of talk tough about this. The fact that these programs aren't sustainable is because you won't face as policy and leaders, you won't face the fact we need additional revenues. And when the people were asked when the governor herself led the charge and asked the people, we approved additional revenues. These cuts were taken on the backs of these most vulnerable and as I said in my op-ed, we did, moved from a war on poverty to help people to a war on the poor.

Ted Siomns: Very quickly.

Eddie Sissons: I just would say that we've got to recognize that just because we cut the program, the need, whether it's a person who is homeless, can't afford child care, needs health care, those needs are still there They're going to be met and us as a community are going to have to pay for it one way or the other.

Jacki Taylor: And surely we pay now, we pay later. In one form or another.

Ted Simons: We're going to have to stop it there. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jacki Taylor: Thank you.

Ted Simons: All right.

Eddie Sissons:AZ Foundation for Behavioral Health;Timothy Schmaltz:Protecting Arizona's Family Coalition;Jacki Taylor:Save the Family Foundation of AZ;

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