SALEM - Senate Democratic members of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services - Sen. Margaret Carter, Sen. Avel Gordly and Sen. Frank Shields - on June 4 alerted Oregonians to a potential $600-800 million shortfall in funds needed to restore the social safety net.

The senators have reviewed the funding levels required to maintain the level of services provided in the budget adopted by the 2001 Legislature, and discovered in the next two years, current budget proposals would spend over $500 million less than was spent last biennium on social programs.

"During 12 years in the Legislature, I have watched as the education community has always been able to put out a number and rally public opinion around its needs. But the poorest of the poor, the hungry, the disabled, the mentally ill, and those in search of jobs cannot mobilize themselves in the same way," Shields said.

Under current budget plans, the state would remove approximately 50,000 people from mental health services, 100,000 people from the Oregon Health Plan, and potentially as many as 30,000 seniors from an array of residential and medical services.

The senators shared specific examples of the inadequacy of current budget proposals, including:

• The number of participants in the JOBS program has risen since June 2001 by 2,800, yet the current proposals would allocate $13 million less to the program.

• If the state only funded the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program at the same level the state provided in April 2003 (after the repeated budget cuts of special sessions and the failure of Ballot Measure 28), the budget for the next two years would be $175,675,411. The Governor's Revised Budget proposes only $156,801,983, while the number of TANF-recipient families has risen from 15,887 to 19,176 families since the end of the last legislative session.

• Funding for community mental health services is slated to decline by over $24 million from where it was two years ago. That represents the elimination of services for over 30,000 adults and over 18,000 children.

• A budget cut of nearly $8 million from current service levels will result in 1,784 Oregonians in adult foster care facilities losing their homes and care.

State fair funding, budget among final agenda items

SALEM - State fair funding and transportation issues are among the challenges crowding the docket in the final days of the 2003 Oregon Legislature, Rep. John Mabrey, R-The Dalles, announced. Here are highlights:

• State Fair

Senate Bill 5520A passed the House Floor on Wednesday, June 4, with the support of Mabrey. This bill appropriates money from the general fund to Oregon State Fair and Exposition Center for biennial expenses. Mabrey said he supported the bill because "fairs in general are an important part of any resource-based community."

• Transportation

The transportation package passed out of committee and was sent to revenue for final adjustment.

"It is still there, but I expect it to be passed out soon. It is a good and badly needed package for all of Oregon," Mabrey said.

• More than Budget Awaits

"Balancing the budget is the big task, but we also face other major issues that will garner their share of controversy," Mabrey said. Those include:

A mandatory statewide health and dental insurance purchasing pool for K-12 school, Education Service District and community college employees. The pool is intended to help control spiraling medical costs that have added financial pressure to already strapped education budgets.

A successor pension plan for newly hired public employees. Legislators have reached an agreement on reforms to the Public Employee Retirement System for existing workers, but a Senate committee still is grappling with a substitute pension plan for public workers hired after July 1.

A revamped Oregon Health Plan. The changes are almost certain to cut some "working poor" Oregonians off the plan, but the focus is how to structure and prioritize coverage for low income persons who remain under the plan, Mabrey said.

June 22 is the new date for sine die, or last meeting day for legislators in Salem, Mabrey announced.

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