budget wreck

If the state cuts its budget, Billings will feel the impact quickly.

More state prisoners will be in our overcrowded Yellowstone County jail and the state will be paying the county less per day to house each inmate.

Convicts are likely to be on the streets again sooner with fewer parole officers to supervise them.

The majority of offenders have chemical dependencies, mental illnesses or both, but state cutbacks are likely to reduce availability of those services that would keep people healthy, sober and out of trouble.

The Community Crisis Center is likely to lose the state grant that helps keep the center’s doors open 24/7. Law officers would no longer be able to take troubled individuals there for help.

Local law enforcement will have to handle situations arising from loss of state-funded corrections, health and human services, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said at a forum organized by United Way of Yellowstone County. St. John said the BPD already is required to do social work because there aren’t enough mental health, addiction treatment and youth services for all those in need.

RiverStone Health stands to lose up to 20 employees who now respond to contagious disease outbreaks (think norovirus), provide hospice, case management for youth with disabilities, vaccines for uninsured adults and a program that makes Medicaid more cost effective for people with serious, chronic health problems.

The Mental Health Center has already had to reduce staff from 165 down to 100 with state cuts in mental health service funding, according to Executive Director Barb Mettler. So far, 230 seriously ill people in the center’s 11-county service area have lost case management services that helped them stay safe and healthy in the community between doctor visits.

Mike Chavers, CEO of Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, said 350 troubled youth and their families could lose community mental health services. That would force a staff reduction of 35 positions, resulting in $1.2 million less in payroll in the Billings community.

Second Chance Home would close. This is a house for mothers and their young children to live while the moms get into addiction treatment and work on overcoming the problems that previously led to child abuse or neglect. Second Chance Home has served 29 families since May 2016, sparing 59 children the trauma of being separated from their mothers.

Loss of Early Childhood Intervention would mean that infants and toddlers with disabilities wouldn’t receive the therapy that would help them live normal lives, according to David Munson.

St. John’s Lutheran Ministries is on a pace to lose $2.4 million this year on care for elders on Medicaid, and the loss will be much greater with the rate reductions proposed to balance the state budget, according to Tom Schlotterback, vice president of mission advancement.

Big Sky Senior Services would have to reduce its in-home services, putting Yellowstone County seniors at risk for longer hospital stays, and sooner need for nursing home care, said Executive Director Denise Armstrong.

Adult Resource Alliance projects that its cut would mean 1,357 fewer meals provided at senior centers, 674 fewer meals delivered by Meals on Wheels and 213 fewer rides provided to doctor appointments.

United Way of Yellowstone County is to be commended for organizing this bipartisan forum. Thanks to the lawmakers who spent two hours listening to community concerns: Sens. Jen Gross, Doug Kary, Margie MacDonald, Mary McNally, Tom Richmond and Roger Webb; and Reps. Don Jones, Jessica Karjala, Kathy Kelker, Kelly McCarthy, Dale Mortensen, Sue Vinton and Peggy Webb.

The Billings legislators who didn’t attend need to get themselves educated. A summary of the Billings panelists’ information, along with ideas for solutions was sent to the Legislative Finance Committee and is posted on the United Way website. The possible solutions included greater efficiency in state government and tax increases. There was strong agreement on the need for more local input on state funding and program decisions.

Gov. Steve Bullock is required by state law to cut spending up to 10 percent if revenue projections for the biennium fall short. But lawmakers aren’t off the hook. Bullock and the legislative majority agreed on this budget in April, they all own it.

The Montanans who went to Helena last winter and spring got commitments for funding that budget, which already was austere. Now many of the youngest, oldest, sickest and most vulnerable Montanans are at risk of losing their safety, their health and homes. It’s the job of Bullock and the 150 lawmakers to protect them.

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