State tightening belt too much? Only time will tell

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It’s never easy to tighten one’s belt, but how many notches are too far?

We’re about to find out.

State Department of Health and Human Services and Medicaid officials told lawmakers in March that Gov. Ricketts’ proposed cuts wouldn’t affect access to services for low-income families, the disabled and elderly.

Lawmakers restored the funding to the budget, but Wednesday, were seven votes short, 23-25, of the votes needed to override Ricketts’ line-item veto of $56.5 million in that spending, $34 million of that from the DHHS.

Most of the governor’s cuts reduced specific state programs’ budgets by 0.5 percent, but others, like DHHS, took bigger cuts.

Some providers, such as nonprofits providing health care, housing and services for elderly and disabled, say the cuts will be enough to force them to close their doors.

An Omaha nursing home, for example, with 90 percent of its residents on Medicaid, would lose $300,000 a year, putting them out of business.

Ricketts called his cuts a “thoughtful and measured approach” to continued declines in tax revenue, rejecting a move to transfer money from a highway fund and other “budget gimmicks.”

The budget doesn’t cut the troubled Department of Correctional Services, K-12 education or the property tax credit relief fund, and leaves the state’s cash reserve fund alone.

Agencies which provide services to Medicaid recipients, people with developmental disabilities, abused or neglected children will have to find creative ways to continue to provide those services at the same, or reduced levels.

If they can, Nebraska will be in a better position to weather the current farm economy downturn with more efficient, effective use of taxpayer dollars.

If it turns out they cannot, the vulnerable adults and children, their families and society, in general, will be paying the price for a long time to come.

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