Monday, January 26, 2009

Riding backseat

Hundreds of social service advocates today gathered at the Rotunda of the Hawaii State Capitol in response to the Lingle administration's budget proposal to eliminate the Healthy Start program. The cut would save the state $23.2 million dollars over the next two fiscal years. The rally began immediately after the Governor's State of the State address.

Former State Rep. Alex Santiago, chief executive officer of PHOCUSED, an advocacy group for health and human services, took issue with what Governor Linda Lingle said about social-services programs in her address to the people of Hawaii.

After praising the Dept. of Human Services and its community partners for their substantial progress in child welfare services, Lingle pointed out that, because of recent reductions in revenue, balancing the state budget will take precedence over anything else, even notable services and programs.

"…they and other worthy programs will take a back seat to our more immediate need to balance the budget. Today's struggling economy has created a deep hole in our budget that we need to dig out of this session," Lingle said.

Santiago kicked off the human services rally under the volcanic opening of the state capitol with a bold statement firing back at the governor's comments and igniting cheers and applause from a swarm of social service advocates clad in neon green t-shirts.

"We take a backseat to no one," he announced. "You [Lingle administration and Legislature] will not balance the budget on the most vulnerable people of this state."

Rep. Ryan Yamane, chairman of the House Health Committee, has been quoted in a recent Honolulu Advertiser article saying that lawmakers will try to find money for the program. However, he did also relate the difficulties that this will entail.
"We're going to try," said Yamane, a social worker. "The difficult part is, when we give one dollar to one place, it means somebody else is not going to get that dollar. So the question comes down to looking at what are the core services of state government in the health area and looking at ways to help support valuable programs."

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