Over the past week the Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority have been holding joint community budget forums in Eastern Oregon, Salem and Portland. Next week the forums will be in Redmond, Medford and Newport.
At the midway point of the statewide tour, one thing is clear: people value the services we provide in their community.
We ask the forum attendees four questions about the 2011-2013 DHS and OHA budgets.
- What services are most beneficial to your community?
- How would you prioritize the 2011-13 budget?
- What is your top priority for making services better?
- What can communities do to get ready for coming budget shortfalls?
In the three forums so far as people have answered those questions, several themes have emerged.
- Oregonians want government that takes care of our most vulnerable citizens - our children, people with disabilities, and seniors.
- They want us to be smart and innovative and to prioritize and streamline services.
- They want government that focuses on collaboration among agencies, community organizations and families.
- They want us to communicate with them clearly and often.
- They want us to work on preventing problems rather than only responding to them. They value government that invests early to save both human and financial capital down the road.
- They want resources spent at the local level to provide both services and jobs in their communities.
Oregonians like the services we provide through DHS and OHA. They also have great ideas on how to make them better both in the comments they provided in the forum and in comments e-mailed through the community forum website.
This is an important message to hear; especially now when the news reports show that faith in "big government" is at a historic low. But that doesn't reflect the local services DHS and OHA provide in Oregon that help individuals and families stay safe, healthy and independent. Or how state and federal dollars help small businesses that deliver these services.
"The need in our community for the services we provide to clients has increased so much I have added 100 employees over the last two years," said one small business owner.
People were also very specific about how they want us to make services better.
"Prevention is the priority and costs and benefits need to be evaluated. There should also be some kind of triage system to ensure that individuals are routed to the programs that best suit their needs. Improve communications and reduce the overlap of services," said one participant from the Eastern Oregon session.
People are also worried about the coming budget shortfalls created by the continued recession. During the first two years of the recession we were able to make it through thanks to the hard work of DHS and OHA staff, careful management of the budget and federal stimulus funds. The federal funds are going to end, though, leaving us with serious shortfalls.
The shortfalls are the difference between meeting the increasing need for services in Oregon and the projected available revenue. For DHS, the estimated shortfall is $700 million. For OHA the shortfall is estimated to be $900 million.
"We feel like we're down to the bone. The most that we can ask for is that you try to minimize the harm," said one stakeholder when asked how to prioritize services if budget cuts are necessary. That sentiment was repeated in each community.
So while people may "hate big government," they do value the services provided through DHS and OHA, and understand the importance of health and human services in their local communities. Those are the kinds of stories that don't make headlines, but they are important stories to tell.
You can see more of the DHS and OHA story, get many more comments from the forums, provide your own comments, and see pictures from the events on our community forum website or on Facebook.