Senate OKs Health, Human Services Bill

Article excerpt

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - After years of making major cuts in Oregon's safety net for the poor and vulnerable, the state Senate on Friday signed off on a human services budget that largely avoids making yet more reductions.

The Senate voted 23-7 to send over to the House a $2.53 billion general-fund appropriation for health and human services. The House is scheduled to give the bill its final legislative vote today to send it to the governor for his signature.

Combined with federal and other funds, the budget will provide $9.8 billion in 2005-07 for state agencies and private service providers. The money provides day care for infants, foster care for children, medical insurance for those who can't afford it and care for seniors who aren't able to live alone unassisted.

Even with that level of spending - 4.2 percent more than the governor had proposed in December - it still wasn't quite enough to keep all programs in place.

Two programs in particular - general assistance for the poor and wage hikes for employees at nonprofit service providers - were not funded at levels advocates had wanted.

The general assistance program would be eliminated altogether under the Department of Human Services budget. Currently, it provides a modest stipend to poor adults who have been deemed unemployable.

The money spent by the state to help them eventually is refunded to the state by the federal government once the recipients are ruled eligible for federal Social Security insurance.

Ellen Lowe, a lobbyist for the Oregon Food Bank and the Oregon Law Center, said it made little sense to do away with the program to save $3.1 million, when the federal government reimbursed the state for providing temporary aid.

"It really is for people to have $314 a month so they can have a roof over their head and a little food until they're eligible for SSI," Lowe said.

The budget package also cuts $665,000 by delaying cost of living adjustments for employees at group homes, assisted living facilities and other providers of contracted human services. …