DN Editorial: State budget cuts will make all of us vulnerable

Posted: February 24, 2012

YESTERDAY, Mayor Nutter heard from Cabinet members and others who painted a dire picture of the impact Gov. Corbett's budget will have on the city's more vulnerable populations.

Testifying at a two-hour PhillyStat meeting were people on the front lines of those areas that will be affected by Corbett's proposal to consolidate seven state appropriations - including services for mental health, intellectual disabilities, county child welfare, behavioral health, homeless help, and drug and alcohol treatment - into a single block grant, while slashing the money for these by 20 percent.

Also, the general assistance grant, a $205-per-month - yes, that's per month - stipend to sick and disabled adults, victims of domestic violence, and very low-income children, is being eliminated.

Deputy Mayor for Health Don Schwarz calls the budget a recipe for disaster.

Every state budget prompts worries that the sky will fall, especially in cities like ours, and few are better meteorologists of this phenomenon than advocates for the poor, disabled and vulnerable. Nutter joined in that forecasting yesterday, referring to the shredding of the social safety net this latest rounds of cuts will accomplish. His question - 'what else is government here for but to help those who can't help themselves?' - is at the crux of much of our current political discourse, and the crux of the differences between the governor and many in this city.

In fact, Nutter asked a better question during yesterday's session: What are the core values in Corbett's budget? What's he trying to accomplish?

Indeed, Corbett's recent budget address, and his actions thus far, puts us in mind of the Chauncey Gardiner of state government. The governor's actual budget address is about cutting and not spending. There's little in the way of what all this accomplishes, besides a tidy budget document. But what kind of state does this budget intend to create? Surely, economic growth and prosperity has to be a priority, which Corbett acknowledges with the somewhat magical thinking of "fewer taxes creates lots of jobs."

But you don't have to be a social-service advocate to acknowledge that not everyone is equipped to partake of prosperity, even in the best of circumstances. The role of government should be a balance between encouraging economic growth and alleviating human misery.

Meanwhile, we will all soon see the impact of the shredded safety net in this city: more people on the streets, and likely, more crime. Schwarz raised another worrisome specter: the return of the institutionalization of the mentally ill, putting us on a path we left three decades ago.

Add to this the war over contraception and other conservative ambitions for women to stay home and raise families, and the return to 1960 is complete.

But we're not going.

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