America's Vital Public Services

February 12, 2009

“State lawmakers can expect some relief from the federal stimulus package — but it is far from a cure-all.” That is the conclusion reached in an extensive article by Ashley Powers and Richard Fausset in the Los Angeles Times Sunday.

The budget-cutting plans that have emerged from state capitols so far have a potential effect on almost everyone. Parks will close. Environmental programs will be scaled back. Bus and ferry routes will shut down, possibly sending more drivers onto clogged streets and highways. Schools may go without school nurses, and classes may become more crowded. Sick people who rely on state health programs may instead get sicker.

The vital public services at risk include health care and unemployment programs that give families some needed security during difficult economic times, law enforcement and education that provide our communities hope and stability. At a time when families most need the services and programs that state governments provide, states are least able to meet their responsibilities. The article illustrates how hard those cuts can hit.

Nevada resident Margaret Frye-Jackman, 71, was diagnosed in August with ovarian cancer. She had two rounds of chemotherapy at University Medical Center, the only public hospital in the Las Vegas area. Soon after, she and her daughter heard the news on TV: The hospital's outpatient oncology services were closing because of state Medicaid cuts. Treatment for Frye-Jackman and hundreds of other cancer patients was eliminated.

While some may find a way to pay for expensive treatments, others may not be so lucky when their states cut health services. As AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee said in December, “We can't recover from this mess and put people back to work if we are gutting the public services that are vital to our communities.” Congress needs to pass the economic recovery plan quickly to create as many jobs as possible and reinvest in the long term progress of our communities. And assistance to state and local governments must be a cornerstone of that effort.

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