I realize that trying to get any given part of Alaska’s elected and appointed leaders to stop tossing the fiscal gap around like a hot potato at a Fourth of July picnic game is probably asking for more than anyone is able to give. But I don’t think all the blame belongs to the people sitting in Juneau. Some of it does, but not all of it.
A lot of it belongs to individual Alaskans who keep sending the message to Juneau that they don’t want to pay for services but by gosh those services they use had better not be cut. Cut services someone else uses. Because the services someone else uses must be where the bloat is.
The problem with running state government based on the theory that you can always cut more services and save more money so long as you don’t cut my services, is that the people who get left out of the equation are the ones with the least amount of political clout and the least amount of power. They are the ones least able to stand up and articulate what the constant cuts have done to them.
The other problem you run into, is that instead of funding government services based on what is best for us, for our society as a whole, programs get funded based on who can generate the loudest voice or most threaten a politician’s re-election chances.
Possibly the most disenfranchised group in society are children without family or parents to advocate for them. While you will go to the school board meeting and make sure you are heard if cuts threaten a program your child needs to succeed, there is no one usually available to go represent the child in state custody whose needs will not be met because of budget cuts. Theirs is a silent scream that turns no heads and changes no votes.
And it’s even worse if you are a teenager in state custody because then you don’t even have the cute factor working for you, the “Awww” factor that at least helps little children tug at society’s heartstrings. Teenagers are not generally the most attractive group and these are not generally their most attractive years. And so their needs come so low in the pecking order that I find myself wondering why we don’t just build orphanages to warehouse them till they are 18. It would be better than the hodgepodge of sometimes questionable services we cobble together now in an attempt to meet their needs while keeping our fingers crossed that funding doesn’t get cut again and create another hole in the net.
Last year, some budget cuts in the Office of Children’s Services were turned over to the individual regions to handle. I guess the thinking was that the regions would best know where they could cut with the least amount of pain. So the region with which I work most frequently decided it had to cut $5 a day from its augmented rates given to foster parents who take in special needs kids.
That’s $5 a day – $150 or so a month – cut and gone. Many of these foster parents use every cent they get to place these children in any program available that might help them become productive citizens of our state. They aren’t getting rich off these payments. Anyone who has ever tried to feed and clothe a normal teenager knows how high that cost can be. On top of that, these foster parents are dealing with children who demand more of their time, energy and emotion than any of us can possible imagine.
They took these kids in based on a promise from the state that they would be supported in their efforts. Apparently that promise only held true for so long as it was convenient to the state. And when it wasn’t, the money was cut.
Some of these kids will no longer get the services they need. Some will have to leave their foster homes because the foster parents can no longer afford them. They will go to group homes, which will cost the state a lot more than the foster home did. And ultimately, no matter how good the group home is, the kids will emerge from it more comfortable with institutions than families. All of which I guess is good since statistics show that most of these kids will then spend a large part of their adult life in jail.
And no politician has ever lost an election by building more jails.