Public makes budget pleas
BATON ROUGE — Advocates for the elderly. Parents of disabled children. Supporters of a breast cancer screening program. Parish emergency officials. Victims of domestic violence.
They were among those who filled a House committee room Tuesday to ask lawmakers to stop cuts to their programs and services, as proposed in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Victoria Howes, of Covington, pleaded for a program that helps elderly citizens apply for and learn about programs that offer rebates and discounts on medications. She said she uses it to afford 19 medications for seizures and breathing treatments, among other ailments.
Jindal’s budget would shutter nine resource centers and the entire SenioRx program in the Office of Elderly Affairs for an expected $1.1 million in savings.
“You’re never lied to or turned away, and you’re never disappointed,” said Howes, sitting in a wheelchair with an American flag attached to it. “I’m begging you to keep SenioRx open and to help me and help thousands of others.”
Over a decade, the program is estimated to have helped more than 91,000 elderly and disabled people save more than $145 million on more than 1.2 million prescriptions, according to a House financial analysis.
“You’re getting a lot back for the money you’re investing in this program,” said Shannon Broussard, director of the Cajun Area Agency on Aging in Lafayette. “In order for us to all of a sudden just stop these services, you’re really going to impact these individuals.”
The Jindal administration says similar services are offered in other health care clinics, by the state health department and through community-based nonprofits.
Beryl Mitchell, SeniorRx coordinator at the Capital Area Agency on Aging, described that as a misconception, saying many people will have no access to services if the program closes.
The governor’s Division of Administration released a list of programs after Tuesday’s hearing it says are available to help the elderly with pharmacy discounts.
“Pharmacy programs that were coordinated through (SenioRx) are still available for senior citizens across the state,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a statement.
Several people asked House members to reconsider slashing another $1.4 million to domestic violence services, on top of a $1 million cut enacted earlier this year to a program that had previously spent more than $6 million on domestic violence programs, like emergency shelters. They said the reductions could shutter shelters that rely on the money.
“These families and these children, they need support. They need a place to go,” said Kimberly Clement, with the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The testimony was part of a full day set aside for the House Appropriations Committee to hear from the general public about the 2013-14 budget. The committee will make changes to Jindal’s proposal before advancing a proposal to the full House for debate.
“I want you to know how important it is for you to be here and to continue to share with us the real, live testimony from around the state,” Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, told the people who showed up.
Andrew Muhl with the American Cancer Society said the governor’s budget would strip $700,000 in state funding for a breast and cervical cancer program that offers screening and treatment to thousands of women each year who can’t afford doctor visits.
“Please restore this program and do what’s right for the state of Louisiana,” Muhl said.
Meanwhile, local emergency preparedness directors objected to a more than $2 million cut proposed to grants for local homeland security efforts.
“My biggest fear is when we cut budgets to our departments that we’re going back to pre-Katrina levels, which we just cannot afford to do,” said Jerry Sneed, director for New Orleans’ emergency preparedness office.
Not everyone was seeking to reverse proposed cuts.
Family members of developmentally disabled children who need around-the-clock care urged committee members to consider adding $4 million to include 200 more people in a program that pays for at-home and community-based care for the disabled, saying 10,000 people are on a waiting list for services.
By MELINDA DESLATTE