Friday, September 7, 2012

This Is What Budget Cuts Look Like

I listened to a radio interview a while ago about potential cuts to public transportation in Los Angeles. A college student who lived in South Los Angeles and commuted by bus to UCLA for classes was interviewed. Her normal trip of 45 minutes each way would, with the cuts, be expanded to 3 hours each way because of reduced services. She couldn't drive and would seriously have to reconsider her plans because of it.

A couple of years ago, the Los Angeles times did an expose on the county's child welfare services. Halfway through the year, 20 children had died violent deaths because of abuse, and the director tried to hide it and only release a few of the stats to make it appear that everything was under control. The normal death rate was about a dozen per year, and the department looked like it would meet triple that by the end of the year. They had had big budget cuts and were struggling to meet the extreme need around them without enough resources. Children who didn't need to die died because of the budget.

In a psychiatric hospital in Alabama in 1970, the employees kept the violent patients subdued through either inappropriately extreme amounts of medication, or by binding their limbs for long periods of time. While many such hospitals are vilified, I had a wise professor point out that this hospital had had significant staff cuts before that, and medicating and binding the patients was the most humane option, because it kept everyone safe. Before the budget cut, there was enough staff to watch everyone. One patient sued (Wyatt v. Stickney), and this Supreme Court decision assured that hospitals should now have enough resources for no cruel and unusual punishment (i.e.--the government must provide enough funds for staff).

There are so many people who rely on social welfare, and who have no other options--the disabled, the elderly, the sick, the poor. Sometimes healthy, educated people when we are in a rough spot. I hope that everyone will consider what a positive thing taxes and social programs are when they go to the polls.