| We have a lot to be proud of at the Department of Human Services this week. Our Public Health Division responded well to the H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak and I want to again commend the staff there for their great work. They worked closely with local health departments, school districts and universities on how to respond to cases in their communities and also get the word out to the public about how to protect themselves and others. They also laid the ground work for how we prepare if there is a more serious outbreak of this new strain of influenza next fall. For updated information now and through next flu season, you can go to www.flu.oregon.gov. And to see the TV news story about how the Public Health Division rose to the challenge, click here.
Also this week we presented our regularly scheduled rebalance to the Joint Ways and Means Human Services Sub-committee. In spite of record-breaking caseload increases driven by the economic downturn, DHS has been able to manage within our budget and we will not need additional revenue beyond our budget to get through our 2007-2009 budget. This is an impressive accomplishment and one that was praised by lawmakers.
"I'd like to say congratulations for getting us here," said Sen. Alan Bates. "This could have been a real disaster. In December and January we were worried where we'd be in the last two months here. The fact you've basically zeroed out is a real plus for us. I appreciate the hard work you've done ..."
One key reason we were able to meet our budget is that last fall we planned for the anticipated caseload increases, which have grown more than 27 percent over last year for cash assistance and nearly 24 percent for food stamps. Our strategies on meeting the needs and reducing costs have been successful.
"It is absolutely a pleasure now to get forecast information you can really depend on," said Sen. Jackie Winters.
Of course, the biggest factor has been all of your hard work. Your efforts in meeting the dramatic increase in need without additional resourses has been critical.
"I'd just like to thank the leadership of the department at all levels and also the line staff, who have been really carrying the brunt of providing some very important services to all Oregonians," said Rep. Tina Kotek.
Lawmakers also recognized that we will need additional help in the coming biennium. With Oregon's unemployment rate at more than 12 percent, our forecasts show a continued need for safety net services. We predict a 24 percent increase in cash assistance need, a 30 percent increase in food stamp need and a 23 percent increased demand in the Oregon Health Plan.
One message that came through loudly and clearly from constituents during lawmakers' recent statewide budget tour is that Oregonians understand how critical human services are to their families and communities.
A Portland man testified in front of the panel last week about how addictions treatment taught him how to control his anger and take better care of his children.
"Most of all, it showed me I had a soul, I was human, and I was worth saving," he said.
Now as the budget writers sit down to allocate the scarce resources for the 2009-2011 budget, one thing I know lawmakers understand better than ever before is how important our work is to his family and to all Oregonians...and that we are doing that work well.