|It's been almost exactly one year since we launched a 13-city road trip to gather a final round of public input for our 2009-2011 Agency Request Budget.
DHS held community forums a year ago in Medford...
At that time, Oregon's unemployment rate for April 2008 was 5.5 percent.
Today it has just about doubled to 10.8 percent.
At that time, there were 474,407 Oregonians on food stamps.
Today there are 573,491.
After hearing from people throughout Oregon, our original Agency Request Budget included many vital initiatives such as:
- Expansion of the community mental health system;
- More drug and alcohol treatment;
- Investments in public health;
- Investments in the licensing and regulation of long-term care facilities and adult protective services;
- Expanding services to children in foster care;
- Ensuring that all Oregonians living in poverty have access to health care, dental care, mental health and substance abuse services; and
- Many other improvements to the health and well being of Oregonians.
We attempted to acknowledge the full range of heath and human services needed for this state.
But today lawmakers are facing the problem of filling an anticipated budget hole of about $4.4 billion dollars and are forced to make reductions in the most basic of services.
One thing that has not changed since last year, however, is how Oregonians value public services.
Even with the individual character and needs of each local community, there were several common themes we heard from people when we were on the road:
DHS and the services provided or funded through our agency are part of the local fabric of life and help people become fruitful members of society. "I am here to say thank you. I am getting my high school diploma this year because of the help of your staff." (Baker City)
Human services are also part of the local economy. "The jobs my residential treatment home provide are important to the community. If you don't maintain the infrastructure, you will never get it back." (La Grande)
No matter what the issue - from health care to addictions treatment - there is wide agreement across Oregon that prevention and early intervention is most efficient, more effective and more humane. "The wisest use of state dollars is to make sure people get the services they need before the situation gets worse." (Eugene)
... and Portland, plus 10 other locations.
Over the next several weeks I believe the Oregon Legislature will hear the same messages from local communities. Lawmakers are going on a statewide town hall tour. The tour launches on April 20 in Lincoln City then travels to Portland the next day and continues on to eastern Oregon then will end in Eugene on May 1. For a complete list, click here.
Today, at the halfway point of the 2009 legislative session, which is scheduled to end in June, it remains unclear what the final budget will be. I know it is difficult to operate under such uncertainty but I want to again reiterate the proposed cuts that will be discussed at the town hall meetings for the DHS budget are just that - discussions. This is an important part of the process and no decisions have been made.
Still, I cannot help but reflect on what a difference a year makes and on the importance of the many contributions each of you make every day to improve the health and well being of Oregonians.