The legislative session that ended yesterday started on a familiar note. The February forecast showed revenues down $180 million statewide, due in large part to the ongoing recession.
These same economic forces continue to drive demand for services to children and families, seniors and people who need health care coverage.
One thing that struck me during this legislative session is that lawmakers understand the work we are doing to help Oregonians weather the recession, and they want to make sure that work continues. On our end, in spite of record-breaking caseload increases, DHS has stayed within 1 percent of the legislatively approved budget. But unless the economy bounces back, we will have a deeper shortfall. To help address that, lawmakers set aside $30 million in a special appropriation fund that will be available if the need for our services and our caseloads continues to escalate.
In addition, several pieces of legislation passed that are important to the clients of health and human services. Here are some examples:
- Lawmakers restored funding to continue Employment Related Day Care for nearly 3,000 families. The program was slated to be cut in June at the end of the current biennium, but lawmakers saw that ERDC is an important jobs bill, providing support for low-income working parents.
- Health care coverage was extended for former foster children until they are 21. This is a compassionate act for these young people as they transition to adulthood. They are often without family resources or support. These youth can have higher medical, dental, mental health, developmental, educational and relationship problems than youth who were not in foster care, and the problems are compounded by multiple foster home placements.
- Legislation passed to require radon-resistant construction standards for residential and commercial buildings. Because radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, these new standards are important for all Oregonians' health.
- A prescription drug database to help reduce the growing numbers of individuals in Oregon dying unnecessarily from prescription drug overdoses. This tool allows medical professionals the access they need to quickly access whether a person is receiving multiple prescriptions improving individuals health and well-being.
Now that the session has ended, we look ahead to the rest of the year. These are both exciting and challenging times ahead. Economic forecasters have made it clear we live in a new reality. As private sector businesses and the economy continue to struggle, demands on the public sector are greater than ever. At the same time, revenues are not predicted to keep pace with demand.
Finally, we face the loss of some of the federal support Oregon, like all states, received over the past two years to help get us through the recession. Most of our health and human services programs are funded jointly by state and federal dollars. If we are going to continue the same level of support for vulnerable Oregonians, we are going to need continued federal funding until the economy has fully recovered.
We must address these new realities head on.
Soon we will be announcing a series of community forums occurring around Oregon this spring. We invite the public to come learn more and to share with us their priorities for health and human services. These are important conversations to have with our stakeholders and the public as we build the 2011-2013 budgets for both the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority.