Hartford Courant – Susan Campbell


Things are tough in Windsor. Kate Lubin, a caseworker for town social services, says she fielded 65 phone calls last month alone — 20 more than usual — asking for energy assistance. Many of the callers are first-timers.

Things are tough in Middletown, too, where people started asking for fuel assistance in September. Things aren’t so rosy in Hartford, either, where overburdened food pantries report new faces — people who never expected to visit a food pantry except, maybe, as a donor.

Things are tough all over, which makes Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposed budget that much more the bitter pill. Why is it, in a recession, do we go for the vulnerable? Because they don’t vote? Because the economy is taking water, and there’s just no room for them in the lifeboat?

Overall, the governor’s proposed cuts aren’t as deep as the ones she suggested in December, but her target remains children, youth and families. Call this Draconian Lite.

According to Connecticut Voices for Children, the new budget proposals would amount to nearly $75 million in cuts for early child care, health and other services for the young and their families. That includes money the governor didn’t allow to be spent in certain social services programs. Sadly, says executive director Jamey Bell, far too many of the slightly mitigated cuts are “one-time revenues and budget gimmicks” such as federal stimulus funds and moving money between state accounts.

“We can balance the budget in a way that doesn’t harm kids,” Bell said. But then, as Bell says, if you need to cut back, the most obvious — and, I would add, least inspired — target is the people who rely heavily and publicly on their government: the young, the old, the sick. Quietly, and less visibly, the state’s businesses rely on the government, too, but we don’t often suggest they push back from the government teat, do we?

Why not instead, as suggests Connecticut Voices, close corporate tax loopholes, postpone a reduction in the estate tax and raise the income tax of the wealthy? Why not — just once — pick on someone your own size?

Under the governor’s proposed budget, funds to the state’s syringe exchange and AIDS prevention services would be cut by 30 percent, according to the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition. That takes AIDS services back to 1997’s funding level, while the syringe exchange cuts reach all the way back to ’95.

The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the state has doubled since then.

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