Senator Hardiman asked and was granted unanimous consent to make a statement and moved that the statement be printed in the Journal.
The motion prevailed.
Senator Hardiman’s statement is as follows:
This Department of Human Services budget is one of the most important that we will vote on. In these very difficult economic times, we have seen large increases in caseloads as our neighbors lose their jobs, homes, and struggle to get through. As a state, we are also challenged by the requirements of a federal court settlement on foster care. Much of this budget is driven by these two forces. This budget addresses those challenges.
There are other provisions that we can be proud of. There is more funding for online applications and a call center to help people access services, but relieves part of the strain on our local offices. I am told that our caseworkers have an average of 700 cases per caseload now. These measures in the budget will help us respond to that without adding more staff.
The budget also responds to public concerns by adding new inspector general staff and linking Bridges program with the LEIN system. Both of these measures will help ensure that the needy and deserving will get taxpayer assistance. The budget also makes contributions toward our welfare-to-work efforts and the scaled-down JET Plus. This is less than the Governor desired, but a reasonable outcome.
There are a lot of other good things in the budget, but there are also cuts. I will say that there is an item that I am not in favor of. It is the continued funding of the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council and withdrawing the union dues that come out of this budget. The Senate-passed version did not have this, but unfortunately, even with amendments, I was not able to put this in the conference report. Nevertheless, I ask for your support of this conference report.
Senator Scott, under her constitutional right of protest (Art. 4, Sec. 18), protested against the adoption of the first conference report on House Bill No. 5882 and moved that the statement she made during the discussion of the conference report be printed as her reasons for voting “no.”
The motion prevailed.
Senator Scott’s statement is as follows:
I am going to oppose this budget, and I urge my colleagues to do the same. While the budget is improved from the point when it left this body in Senate Bill No. 1158, there are still many flaws.
This budget continues to move all adoption cases to private agencies and increases by at least 15 percent the number of foster care cases moving to private agencies. There continue to be questions regarding the capacity and capability of these private agencies to manage this shift. At the same time, we are sending a 36 percent administrative rate increase to these agencies to try to help them accommodate the new caseload. Instead, I suggest we could keep state workers with good pay and benefits doing this work, rather than undercut state workers by moving the work to lesser-paid private positions with lower benefits.
I am grateful for hiring state positions elsewhere in this budget. However, many of them are limited term and are funded with temporary dollars, so their positions are threatened even as they begin work. Child care providers are having their training slashed by $12 million. The Maxey center is being cut again by $2 million, resulting in the layoff of 24 staff. Jet Plus did finally win some funding in this budget, but at $8.5 million, I am afraid this will not help this innovative job training program reach enough of our long-term unemployed. Remember, I always say me today and you tomorrow. Well, the tomorrow has caught up with a lot of folks.
On a more general level, I am disturbed by our lack of support for those in our state who have fallen on hard times and are struggling to make ends meet. Too often, they are met with hostility or disdain. I think with more training, lower caseloads, better technology, and greater effort at distributing our resources equally, this department could do a much better job, and our citizens could get the help they need without feeling degraded by asking for assistance. Of course, these items mean we need to put more dollars, more resources into this budget. While I have great respect for the chairman of the subcommittee and his commitment to helping those most in need, I have to say that my concerns are not heard in the budget process. Too often, as was the case with this conference report, I am told what the result is rather than consulted about possible solutions to the problems addressed by DHS.
I hope that in the future, more focus can be brought to bear on delivering services with sensitivity and compassion. For now, I am left with voting “no” on this conference report.