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Ian K. Kullgren
By Ian K. Kullgren July 8, 2011

Slicing social services was a painful promise - but one Kitzhaber kept

When Gov. John Kitzhaber was campaigning last fall for a third term, he was careful not to paint an overly rosy picture of state finances for voters. The state was billions of dollars short of what it needed to keep programs running as they had in years past.

There would need to be cuts.

Here's how KOIN Channel 6 laid it out in an article last September: "Facing a $3 billion dollar deficit between 2011-2013, Kitzhaber admitted difficult choices lie ahead where cuts are concerned.”

Then they quoted him directly in terms of the Department of Human Services budget.

"We will reduce the number of services we provide, reduce the number of individuals who get services, reduce what we pay people (like doctors and the hospitals who are providing the services) and change the way services are provided," Kitzhaber told the station.

It's not one of those feel-good promises, like, say, education reform or the health care overhaul. Nevertheless, it was, at its heart, a promise to make some tough calls to balance a budget that was severely overextended given expected revenue.

Now that we have a legislatively approved budget for the 2012-13 biennium, we can see whether the governor stayed true to that promise to cut back. We found that he has.

Rep. Tina Kotek, a Portland Democrat, laid out some of the cuts in their starkest terms when the House gave final approval to the Human Services budget on June 28, 2011.

For starters, she said, though more money from the general fund will go toward the Human Services budget, the overall budget is down some 1.2 percent from the 2009-11 biennium. That might not seem like much of a drop, but -- and she took pains to point this out as well -- the recession has meant that more individuals are seeking state aid.

Kotek put it more succinctly: "We have less money going into the system when people need services the most.”

So what is getting cut?

- More than 2,000 families will lose aid dollars as they transition off the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program

- Funding for state-sponsored employment training programs will be cut in half

- State-operated group homes will have to reduce their available beds

- Funds for in-home support for children with disabilities will be reduced

Those are just a few examples. The Department of Human Services has compiled two lists of the cuts and reductions on its website -- one that focuses on cuts to seniors and people with disabilities and one that focuses on children, adults and families.

"Please do not feel comfortable with this budget,” Rep. Kotek told her colleagues. "Because it is very dangerous.”

Indeed, it seems that there are several cuts to Human Services that lawmakers would  rather have avoided. We'll call the governor's promise to cut social services a Promise Kept.

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