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By Deborah Lisi-Baker
Despite having a disability, I do not, now, use state-funded disability services. But there were times in my life when I did. There was also a time in my early parenting years when I needed health care and other services Vermont made available to low-income families. I was grateful that these programs were there. I worked hard; but without the help that taxpayers made possible, I couldn't have worked my way off other (more expensive) government programs and gone on to work and pay taxes, as I have for many years.
Some of our neighbors who need this kind of help today will not get it
if the drastic cuts the governor proposes are implemented.
Many of these proposals are poorly thought out. People doing difficult direct care jobs, some earning $10 an hour without health benefits or mileage reimbursements, are being told that they will have a 4 percent reduction in the pay they get for helping seniors and individuals with disabilities live at home. A program that funds bathroom modifications and ramps for low-income seniors and for children and adults with disabilities is losing funds, despite long waiting lists and federal stimulus funds that can be used to protect the program.
The governor's proposal also eliminates a health department respite program for families of children who have severe disabilities. Many other disability and low income services are also cut drastically. I can't believe Vermonters want these kinds of cuts to happen. Let the budget created by the Legislature stand. It makes cuts in many programs, but it also raises enough revenue to avoid some of the worst cuts in the governor's proposal.
No one expects to become disabled or to have a child or family members suddenly dealing with major illness or injury or lost wages or with unexpected or extraordinary needs. These things can happen to any of us and are even more likely in hard economic times. This is a time for policy makers to hold fast to government's role in helping us help each other. Cuts to low income, disability and senior programs often hurt both the Vermonters who need help and the person who provides assistance. Many direct care workers cannot afford to take the proposed four percent cut to a $10 an hour job and still drive up a back road to someone's home to help someone take a bath or dress themselves or prepare a hot meal.
We should worry less about comparing our tax burden to other states and more about whether our taxes are being used to provide essential services and whether they provide good value, for ourselves and our neighbors, now and in the future. This country was not founded on the slogan of no new taxes but on fair taxation with representation. Many Vermonters who need help today have paid taxes for years. It seems only fair to create a state budget that will help them during these hard times.
Deborah Lisi-Baker lives in Waterbury.