Families plead against human services cuts
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A heartbroken mother told of being nearly killed last month by a severely mentally ill son who broke into her home and bludgeoned her and her husband with a rock.
A director of a domestic violence shelter worried about how to feed and house the families and children the center takes in. “Who’s going to buy milk for the babies?” asked Darlene Thomas, director of a center that serves the Lexington region.
And a resident of a center for disabled adults asked lawmakers to help protect her friends who need housing and care.
“Please make sure they don’t have to go to an institution,” said Mary Ann Lewis, who lives at Day Spring in Louisville.
They were among people who spoke Wednesday at a hearing on the effect of deep budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin. The House human services budget subcommittee heard from about a dozen people who said the cuts could devastate various agencies already suffering from rising costs and years of underfunding.
“I am seeing the system fail,” said Kelly Gunning, a longtime mental health advocate who was seriously injured in an attack last month she said was committed by her son. “We cannot have any more cuts.”
The comments came as the subcommittee continues to deliberate the effects of Bevin’s proposed cuts on various human services that the state funds.
Bevin has proposed cuts of 4.5 percent in the fiscal year that ends June 30 and cuts of 9 percent in each of the next two budget years, which he says are necessary to free up funds for the state’s severely underfunded pension system.
But witness after witness told the House committee Wednesday that the system can’t sustain such unprecedented cuts without a drastic impact on people with mental illness, families fleeing domestic violence, children who have been abused and many other vulnerable people who depend on state services.
“This would just have catastrophic effects,” said Mary Hass, with the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky.
Several committee members said they are unhappy with the lack of information from the Bevin administration on how the cuts will be imposed. While Bevin has said some areas, such as Medicaid, won’t be cut, he said he will leave most details of how to cut programs to his agency heads.
Agency heads, including cabinet secretaries and commissioners of departments, have provided little information to the committee, saying they are still evaluating potential cuts in a budget lawmakers must approve this session of the General Assembly.
“This administration is stonewalling us,” said Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat. “They will not give us any details.”
Several people who spoke to the committee Wednesday said they can only speculate about how much they will be cut but said they are worried. Cuts, combined with directives to increase contributions to the public pension fund, could threaten vital services, they said.
“We have prided ourselves on never turning away a family in crisis,” said Thomas, with the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Families who walk through our doors are traumatized. Often they have to pick up and leave their homes with nothing more than a trash bag of belongings.”
The committee seemed especially disturbed by the testimony of Gunning, advocacy director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Lexington, as she related problems of getting services for the mentally ill, including her son.
Medicaid managed care, which Kentucky implemented in 2011 as a cost-savings measure, has led to cuts in service, denial of care and increased difficulty getting approval for essential psychiatric medication, Gunning said.
She said that it’s difficult to get mental health appointments and that many treatment services, including those for substance abuse, have long waiting lists because of the lack of resources.
Gunning and other mental health advocates lobbied for years to get a new state psychiatric hospital built in Lexington, she said. But the new Eastern State Hospital is more than half-empty because of budget constraints and the difficulty in getting someone hospitalized through a court order, she said.
To get such a court order, it must be proved that the person is dangerous, she said. Yet her son had never been violent until the January night he broke into the Gunnings’ home, convinced his parents were conspiring with the government against him, Gunning said.
Now instead of the hospital care she had sought unsuccessfully for her son, he is incarcerated on felony charges of assault and attempted murder, she said.
Gunning said she and her husband were fortunate to have survived the attack but she is very concerned about the effect of cuts in state funding.
“It’s unconscionable what we put people with severe mental illness and substance abuse through in this commonwealth,” she said. “I want to ask you to stand up and say we can’t do this anymore. We need to invest in human services and stop investing in jails and prison beds.”
Several Louisville Democrats on the panel expressed growing unease about the impact of the cuts on human services.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, noted that the budget lawmakers approve every two years has been called a “moral document.”
The proposed budget, she said, is “an immoral document,” one she said she believes is unlikely to pass the House in its current form.
She also told citizens to make themselves heard.
“You certainly can call the governor’s office and let him know how devastating this budget is going to be,” she said.
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at (502) 582‑4228 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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