Local View: Don’t balance state budget by cutting crucial services

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As representatives of two nonprofit service agencies, we offer our perspective on how proposed budget cuts impact our capacity to provide critical services in Clark County. We encourage our legislators to move beyond political and partisan tensions and focus on making strategic budget decisions. We recognize that only a portion of the state budget is considered discretionary and is the most likely area to make adjustments to balance the budget. Our biggest concern is that the shortfall will be addressed solely by gutting services. We prefer prioritizing critical community needs and decreasing the severity of cuts by exploring options for new revenue.

YWCA Clark County operates the only domestic violence shelter in Clark County and a 24/7 crisis hotline. The Sexual Assault Program of YWCA Clark County provides legal, medical, and emotional support and advocacy to assist sexual assault victims/survivors and their families. The proposed cuts come on top of other reductions and jeopardize YWCA Clark County’s ability to meet its legal mandate to provide these services 365 days a year and maintain program accreditation. Additionally, the cuts will inhibit the ability to leverage those funds to obtain other grants, causing an even deeper reduction.

Cuts to domestic violence funding will require the shelter to reduce the number of bed nights by approximately 23 percent; up to 330 Clark County residents could be turned away when they need crisis intervention the most. Additionally, 580 Clark County residents seeking support services as victims of sexual assault may be turned away. YWCA Clark County has attempted to live within its means by cutting service hours, travel, training, supplies, etc. However, deeper cuts will reduce services to the point of jeopardizing our ability to meet legal requirements to provide these services and we will begin turning people away. This is simply unacceptable.

Treating thousands

Columbia River Mental Health Services treats more than 6,000 Clark County residents annually, including 1,000 children and their families. Services include treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, housing assistance and management, adult residential rehabilitation, job training and employment development, nursing and psychiatric services, plus community volunteer programs.

As with so many of our local partners, CRMHS has cut staffing, spending and services over four years to maximize efficiencies and adapt to the worst recession Clark County has seen in 70 years. Low-income citizens without insurance find it almost impossible to get effective care. Unfortunately, this frequently results in crises that require intervention at a much greater expense either in a local emergency room or jail. Projected cuts will mean 70 to 250 people each month will not receive important health care.

Many of us know friends or have family members who have been victimized by sexual assaults or domestic violence, and we understand the importance of support programs during the darkest hours. We also know friends or have family members who needed substance abuse treatment or other behavior treatment programs. Clark County residents have a history of compassion for vulnerable citizens and have always offered our voices, strength, and resources. We turn to Clark County residents to help us prevent a bad budget situation from becoming a dire situation.

We ask Clark County residents to contact state legislators and urge them to put aside partisan rhetoric to reach a prioritized budget that balances cuts with some revenue generation. The services provided to vulnerable people in crisis are too important to our community to sacrifice for partisan pettiness and election gamesmanship.

Times are tough. We get it, and our agencies are living within our means. However, additional budget cuts are unconscionable, and Clark County residents will truly feel the pain if this is allowed to happen. We need your help to appeal to the state legislators so that we can continue to help Clark County residents when they need us most.

Kelly Walsh is president of the YWCA Clark County board. Joan Caley is president of the Columbia River Mental Health board.