Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Poor prospects for human services

Not only will the poor always be with us, but, because of the downturn in the economy, their numbers are steadily growing, even as the state has less money to help care for them.

Human services groups around Hawaii remain focused – some quite literally – on bringing the plight of the poor to the forefront of the debate, as the Legislature chops its budget to get it in line with a $1.8 billion shortfall over the next two years.

Lawmakers and staff this morning were treated to fresh fruit, coffee and pastries as Partners in Care lobbied for more help for the homeless. Several hundred people yesterday, calling themselves PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawaii’s Ohana, Children, Under-Served, Elderly and Disabled) sported lime green shirts as they installed themselves in the Capitol rotunda and sang, hooted and waved at passersby.

Almost 21,000 homeless were provided services in the state last year, ranging from emergency shelter to transitional housing, housing placement, health care, to behavioral health services, according to Partners in Care.

On average, it cost $1,506 for each person in shelter, $212 for outreach per person served and $516 per person for emergency assistance, placement and care matching funds.

Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services, presented a budget today to a joint panel of the House and Senate Committees on Human Services, and pledged not to cut the safety net below 2003 levels. She said programs had been beefed up in the years since.

Parts of the Human Services budget – most notably to cover increases in medical and negotiated pay increases – will go up.

But reductions in services will be necessitated by $25.4 million per year cuts in general funds to comply with Lingle’s budget reduction targets. The department is also proposing to cut 28 permanent and four temporary positions.

There might be a shortage of money this year, but there’s no shortage of creative solutions to the state’s homeless problem.

Rep. Rida Cabanilla, D-Waipahu, Honouliuli, Ewa, has introduced a bill that creates a voluntary version of the old “Hobo Express” of the Mainland. HB 1187 appropriates $75,000 to send those homeless who want to go, back where they came from. All indications are, the bill isn’t going anywhere either.