|I want to start this week's message by thanking those of you who have hosted me in your branches and offices over the past two months. I have been trying to talk with and listen to everyone either in person or by video conference and will continue to do so.
It has been a privilege to see first-hand how DHS employees are rising to the occasion to meet the needs of Oregonians who are struggling in this economy.
I have also heard how worried you are about how the coming budget cuts will affect you and your clients.
I am worried, too. These are very difficult times that have been marked by uncertainty because as the employment rate has risen month by month over the past year, it has meant more people are coming to us for assistance and that there will be less money to pay for that assistance.
This was evident during the past week when we released the "re-shoot" of the budget. That is when we update our current service level budget based on the most recent data possible before the Legislature finalizes the numbers. As you know, a few weeks ago our spring caseload forecast showed that the economy will continue to drive increased demand for DHS services such as the Oregon Health Plan, cash assistance and TANF. Our re-shoot this year shows it will take $258 million to cover those rising caseloads and help Oregonians get through these tough times.
And today, the revenue forecast was released. This presents the final dollar amount the state Legislature will be working from as it builds the 2009-2011 budget. The forecast shows an approximate $3.6 billion revenue shortfall for 2009-11 and an additional $351 million shortfall for the rest of this biennium (2007-09). That means that even with proposed new revenue and federal stimulus dollars the state overall could be short about $1.5 billion or more of what is necessary to maintain current service levels, let alone meet rising caseload for the economic safety net.
Now that we know how far apart the need and the revenue are,
the next step will be for the Ways and Means co-chairs on Monday to release a proposed budget that lays out how those scarce dollars will be allocated.
Then the Legislature will work to finalize a budget that will likely be finished at the end of June. As legislators work on this over the next few weeks we will know more about what service cuts may occur and how they will affect our clients, services and employees.
I know it will be difficult. I will keep you informed during these final weeks of the budget process and once the budget is completed. I will also follow the marching orders you all gave me in one form or another when I visited your offices -- advocate for what is needed, communicate, and do all you can to do the best for our clients, ourselves, and the great multitude of partners we all rely on every day to deliver vital services.