As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, one of my responsibilities is to help oversee the state budget. With the Governor’s State of the State address and the release of the Executive budget recommendations, the ball is now in the Legislature’s court as we begin to deliberate on spending priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. This morning, I sat in on the Department of Human Services (DHS) Subcommittee which represents about 17% of the state’s approximately $42 billion annual budget.
Broadly stated, the mission of DHS is to service vulnerable children, adults, and families. This includes various programs including the Family Independence Program, Food Assistance, Medicaid, Child Day Care, Foster Care, and Child Protective Services among other things. Here’s a snapshot: 16,189 children under DHS supervision, 837,028 households representing 1.6 million individuals receive food assistance, over 16,500 complaints of abuse of vulnerable adults or seniors investigated. The numbers are massive. Additionally, 2009 also saw the department ratchet up major efforts to investigate fraud and integrate new technology to make DHS leaner and more efficient.
In many ways, the DHS budget encapsulates the dilemma of the state budget. Demand for most state services, especially those which are provided by DHS, are economically countercyclical. This means that as the economy takes a downturn and state revenue follows along, the demand for services goes up. It makes sense since more people out of work coupled with less economic activity the need grows while the means to provide shrinks. In a time when many among us desperately need help just to get by, the public outcry over possible tax increases to cover these expenses is loud and clear. Some say that if Michigan doesn’t adequately fund these services up front we’ll all pay more down the road in ways both seen and unseen. Some say we must use this crisis to assess what the true role of government should be and cut what isn’t absolutely necessary. Looking at the people in my community who are DHS clients and knowing the job market in this state, it is hard to argue that anyone can or should turn their backs on them or demand more out of shrinking middle class paychecks. It’s a true Catch-22! As the debate continues, let me know what course of action you recommend.