June 11, 2020

Advocates Call for Using Rainy Day Reserves to Close the Budget Gap


Click for press conference recording here

 2020 06 11 10.16 Zoom press confEighteen nonprofits that serve vulnerable Utahns called for using rainy day reserves rather than cuts to close the state budget gap, because cuts will slow our recovery and harm low-income, minority, and rural Utahns. 2020 06 11 10.34 Davis Co CirclesAlyssa Belford spoke about how public assistance and the Davis County Circles program helped her family and ensured that she got her high school diploma and AA degree so she can become self-sufficient

2020 06 11 Rep Dan JohnsonRep Dan Johnson (R, Cache County)  2020 06 11 Rep. Suzanne HarrisonRep. Suzanne Harrison (D, Salt Lake County)

Salt Lake City – On Thursday, June 11, 2020 on Zoom, a broad and diverse coalition of Utah advocates for the poor and homeless, for immigrants and refugees, for persons with disabilities, for education, health care, environmental sustainability, and for a variety of other popular Utah priorities held a press conference calling on Utah’s Governor and Legislature to make full use of Utah's ample rainy day funds, bonding capacities, and other budget reserves rather than cutting vital investments in education, public health, disability services, poverty relief, and other areas potentially impacted by the proposed budget cuts. 

The press conference took place one week before the Legislature is expected to convene to consider whether to make use of the $5.4 billion in budget reserves that legislators prudently set aside over the last decade or to carry out hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts that would deepen the recession, slow the recovery, and disproportionately harm low-income, minority, and rural Utahns. 

The specific cuts that are recommended by the Executive Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittees are located here: 

Finally, the advocates expressed gratitude for the hard work and sacrifice of Utah legislators, who willingly give of their time and energies in service to the people of Utah, especially at this very challenging time. Two of those legislators joined the press conference, Rep. Suzanne Harrison and Rep. Dan Johnson, who co-authored together a bipartisan call to their fellow legislators that “State budget cuts must not affect education, social services” in the Deseret News on May 31st. 

The participating organizations included: 

  •     Amer. Academy of Pediatrics, Utah Chap
  •     Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake CIty
  •     Circles Davis County
  •     Circles Salt Lake County
  •     Community Action Partnership of Utah
  •     Comunidades Unidas
  •     Crossroads Urban Center
  •     Disability Law Center
  •     International Rescue Committee
  •     RESULTS - UTAH
  •     Salt Lake Education Association
  •     Utah Citizens’ Counsel
  •     Utah Education Association
  •     Utah Health Policy Project
  •     Utah Housing Coalition
  •     Utah Rivers Council
  •     Utahns Against Hunger
  •     Voices for Utah Children

The advocates expressed their concerns as follows:  

Matthew Weinstein, Voices for Utah Children: “With $5.4 billion in budget reserves and an FY20-FY21 budget gap likely to end up between $0.5 and $1.5 billion, Utah could close the entire gap using just 20-30% of our rainy day reserves and still have 70-80% left over in case they are needed again a year from now. We are fortunate that our Governor and Legislature planned for a rainy day and that the economic impact of the Coronavirus Recession is turning out to be lighter in Utah than in most states.

We are heartened by the knowledge that there is a debate taking place among legislators, many of whom want to see the budget reserves put to their intended use. We hope that our voices will strengthen and inspire those legislators to keep up that effort.” 

Jean Hill, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City: “As an active participant in many of the efforts to end homelessness in Utah, the Diocese of Salt Lake City has seen first-hand the impacts of rapidly rising rents and dwindling stocks of affordable housing.  If we truly want to render episodes of homelessness brief, rare and non-recurring, we must invest in housing and supportive services for those on the brink or already experiencing homelessness.” 

Alex Cragun, Utahns Against Hunger: “Utahns Against Hunger is concerned about the Social Services Appropriations Committee's proposed budget cuts. These programs help families weather recessions and ensure a faster overall economic recovery. As a state, we are fortunate to have wisely saved for budgetary shortfalls and we urge the Utah Legislature to consider utilizing our rainy day funds. We urge the Utah Legislature to implore our Federal Delegation to find ways for federal fiscal relief. We ask our Federal Delegation to heed that calling.”

Mike Harman, Utah Education Association & Salt Lake Education Association:“Good Morning, I am Mike Harman, currently I work to support students experiencing homelessness in the Salt Lake City School District, and a proud member of the Utah Education Association.

I believe that it is important to remember that Utah spends the lowest amount per student in the entire country. There is no “fat” to cut from the public education budget. Any cut will have a detrimental effect on student success, and often have negative effects on our most vulnerable populations.

If funding is cut, one of the areas being considered is the Student Health and Counseling support. This would be devastating to the students and families I work with that often have experienced high rates of trauma. Having a trained and certified counselor or social worker in the school to assist the student as they deal with that trauma makes a world of difference for these students.

Another consideration is to class size reduction. Again, this cut would be really hard for the students I work to support. They need more individual attention, not less. They need educators who have the time to provide more individual attention, when the rest of their world is falling apart. Students living in homeless situations have additional challenges, and do better in classes with fewer students.

I implore the Legislature to utilize all their available tools and resources to not only avoid cuts to education, but actually recognize that public education will need increased investments to help students and families as we navigate through this continuing COVID crisis.”

Dixie Huefner, Utah Citizens’ Counsel: “After months of negotiations between state educational groups and state legislators to secure better resources and funding stability for Utah public education students, education funding is back on the chopping block again.The Utah Legislature is pursuing short-sighted budget cuts, including a halt on sorely-needed funds for optional extended-day kindergarten and quality preschool programs. Current school funding simply doesn’t meet the needs of our youngest children, especially those at risk. Further, teachers and support personnel cannot endure further shortages. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel urges the Legislature to dip into Utah’ s ample reserve funds to better support our children, who only get one start in life. Bottom line: Invest now or pay later.”

Julie Miller, Utah Citizens’ Counsel(Julie Miller is a retired elementary school principal): As a member of the Utah Citizens' Counsel and a 36-year veteran of Utah Public Schools as both an administrator and teacher, I feel strongly that now is not the time to make significant decreases to our public education budget. If we lose $200 to $300 million dollars from the education budget for 2020-2021, educators will be forced to delay or forego critical programs central to the connections children need to thrive as adults.

After retiring, I was asked by my district's leadership to accept a one-year position at an elementary school that served homeless families housed at The Road Home. During that year, I watched teachers struggle with environments so toxic that our limited mental health and social service workers could not overcome them. I stood in awe of teachers who tried to make the impossible possible... for children under six who had never been in school, let alone a daycare facility or quality preschool. It made me realize how severe the impacts of toxic stress are on young children.

It is stunning, with ample rainy day reserves and other fiscal remedies like bonding, to think that our legislators are considering using more of a sledgehammer than a scalpel to cut public education funds. Some of the undeserved and ill-advised line item cuts include the $10 million in new money for Optional Extended-Day Kindergarten expansion and $3 million for preschool programs.

All children, but especially the most vulnerable among them, need the best jump-start in life. We can ignore these opportunities as we have done for far too many years in Utah, or we can move the needle in the debate on universal high-quality early childhood programs. We have an opportunity now to invest -- not defund. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel urges our legislators to demonstrate their commitment to public education by recognizing that children get one start in life -- invest now or pay later. We know the effects of inadequate and inequitable school spending patterns.

Why are we collecting taxes and creating rainy day funds if they cannot be used during a downpour to better support Utah teachers and the children they serve? We seem to have ample reserves -- let's use some of them before the chickens come home to roost.

Zachary Frankel, Utah Rivers Council: The proposed $2.4 billion Lake Powell Pipeline is totally unnecessary for the future of Washington County and its an albatross on all Utahns because public services are being stripped down to pay for it in the Utah budget today.  Water lobbyists want all Utahns to forgo essential public services during this pandemic economy so that Utah can issue some $2+ billion in bonds in the upcoming budget to pay for a completely unnecessary 140 mile long Pipeline. These same lobbyists want Utahns to float these costs for 50 years as an interest-free loan.

Although the Pipeline is being presented as being a benefit to Washington County, in truth it is a massive burden since water rates will have to increase by at least 500% which only adds insult to injury during this pandemic.  Perhaps most tragic is that a variety of other, less expensive water sources are being ignored for Washington County and its future growth by the lobbyists proposing this spending. There is enough water in Washington County today to provide for a quadrupling of the county population.  Even the Washington County Water District has testified publicly at the capitol that they do not intend to take all the water from the proposed Pipeline until the year 2054.  Why wait 34 years to take all the water? Because Pipeline water isn’t needed in Washington County.

We should take all $72 million in sales tax funding collecting dust for that Pipeline and use it during this pandemic. There’s another $300 million sitting in other state water funds that could feed hungry Utahns and avoid harming critical services which should be tapped. Utahns shouldn’t be saddled with debt they don’t need. 

Maria Montes, Comunidades Unidas:"The last few weeks have brought to light the inequities that communities of color face daily when trying to access health, education, and safety systems so it is without a doubt that our state is facing challenges that must be addressed. 40 percent of those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are Latinx despite this community making up only 14% of the state's overall population. And in working to create a budget for Utah's next recovery stages our state leaders must fight for a plan that is equitable for all. Currently, many of the programs on the chopping block are essential in closing in the gaps that minorities in our state disproportionately experience including cutting back programs for early child education, Medicaid, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, mental and behavioral health programs as well as addiction rehabilitation services. So we urge our state leaders to take a proactive stance against cutting back programs that are often the lifelines of our communities of color."

Tara Rollins, Utah Housing Coalition: “The time is now to start investing in the people who hold critical jobs in our community. We continue to witness how dependent we are on low wage earners through this pandemic. We took it for granted as many of us hunkered down at home to continue to work as people went to work to support us who were privileged. We can do fly bys, put signs outside of these business thanking those on the frontline of this pandemic; this is not enough.

We are asking the State Legislature to hold whole the commitment of $10 million from SB 39 to invest in Affordable Housing. We understand there are tough decisions to be made, but the time is not to cut housing dollars.

Housing Needs in Utah: Based on the 2019 State of Utah Affordable Housing Report, 183,220 low-income Utah householdspay more than half their income for rent, often forgoing necessities, like food or medicine, to keep a roof over their heads. When low-income renters cannot find a decent, affordable apartment, they are more likely to be evicted and risk becoming homeless.

Before coronavirus, there were only 31 rental homes affordable and available for every 100 of the lowest-income renter households in Utah.  A renter must make $18.30/hour to be able to afford a modest 2-bedroom apartment in Utah. Utah has over 417,000 jobs that make less than $18.30/hour.”

Ellen Brady, MD, MPH, RESULTS-UT: RESULTS, a nationwide Citizen lobbying group focused on poverty issues, urges the Utah Legislature to focus budget priorities on those agencies, programs, and populations that will ensure a robust public health response to the pandemic, prevent further destabilization of vulnerable populations through evictions and food insecurity, hold our children's education harmless, and ensure the ability of our many small businesses to survive and reopen once they can do so safely.

Pam Silberman, International Rescue Committee: Statement from the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City in Opposition to Proposed Cuts in Health and Education Funding

Since opening its doors in 1994, the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City has resettled over 12,000 refugees, while providing additional services to thousands in the wider immigrant community. The IRC works with refugees resettled to the United States, many of whom have survived horrific circumstances and persecution but all of whom show resilience in their eagerness to build lives here in Utah.

We therefore echo the deep concern raised by our partners in the Invest in Utah Coalition and we call upon the Executive Appropriations Committee to reconsider proposed cuts to two critical programs: Health Clinics of Utah and the School Turnaround and Leadership Development Fund. New American families in Utah will undoubtedly be negatively affected by the proposed cuts to these programs.

Publically-funded medical and dental clinics provide crucial and affordable medical care to refugees, immigrants, and other underserved populations in Utah. The proposed 2% funding cut threatens to shutter these clinics completely. These medical and dental clinics are already scarce: three currently exist in the state. Only one of these three clinics provides the federally-mandated refugee health screenings for newly- arrived refugees. And only one currently partners with the IRC to provide dental care for our refugee clients.

The second program cut of concern to us is the School Turnaround and Leadership Development Fund which invests in struggling schools to ensure that all Utah students, regardless of what district they live in, can access a high quality education. The proposed $7 million+ cut essentially eliminates the program, inevitably coming at a huge cost to refugee students and their peers in areas such as the Salt Lake School District. This program is proven to be highly effective: 85% of students participating in the program demonstrated significant growth in their academic success. A cut now is shortsighted as this particular program focuses on investing in the expertise of local school leaders and teachers, the improved educational practices positively impact generations of refugee students to come.

While these two drastic cuts are of greatest concern to the IRC, we watch some of the smaller funding drops with trepidation. For example, as the pandemic results in lost income and families become increasingly food insecure, the $200,000 cut to the Child Nutrition program will remove a lifeline to meals for school-aged children, refugee students among them.

As refugee clients rebuild their lives here in Utah, these programs are critical investments in their success. Basic healthcare and support for their children in school set a long term foundation by which our state and economy will benefit. No one should have to make a choice between putting food on the table or going to the doctor, particularly when the COVID-19 pandemic still rages around the world and fears of a second wave remain. We therefore urge the Executive Appropriations Committee to see accessible medical care and education as necessary investments in the long term health and economic security of our state and community.

Andrew Riggle, Disability Law Center: During the pandemic, Utahns have stepped up to support each other. Now we need legislators to support them by reinforcing the support systems to which we all turn in times of emotional and economic stress. 

The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on residents of nursing homes and other congregate settings. Given this, it’s particularly unwise to reduce oversight, including APS and local ombudsmen, of long-term care facilities. Making it harder to remain at home or in the community by reducing respite options, cutting limited supports to individuals with developmental disabilities, reducing funding for the aging waiver, or eliminating state-funded DSPD and Aging Alternatives clients altogether is similarly shortsighted. 

Life’s turning upside down for thousands of Utahns. Cuts forcing counties to take more responsibility for community mental health, just as we’re beginning to see returns on the legislature's investments in suicide prevention and school-based supports, could have a long-lasting negative effect on thousands of Utahns. Related gains implementing community treatment teams, mobile crisis teams, receiving centers, and supported housing for persons with serious mental illness are also on the chopping block. 

With the effort to reduce recidivism in recent years, it doesn't make sense to limit availability of jail treatment beds, parole officers, or halfway houses. Likewise, further shifting the burden of high-cost, high-need students to districts by cutting para educators in title I schools and reducing intensive services along with special ed impact aid is untenable, especially when millions of taxpayer dollars subsidize private schools.

If these recommendations move forward, Utahns with disabilities and those who are aging could find themselves with no choice but a dangerous institution, forced into mental health crisis or the criminal justice system, or simply left behind. This is why we need our elected leaders to use all the resources at their disposal to protect their most vulnerable friends and neighbors.

The Disability Law Center (DLC) is a private, non-profit organization. The DLC’s mission is to enforce and strengthen laws that protect the opportunities, choices, and legal rights of Utahns with disabilities. Our services are available statewide and free of charge, regardless of income, legal status, language, or place of residence.

American Academy of Pediatrics Utah Chapter - Dr. William Cosgrove: “The 695 pediatricians and pediatric providers of the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics are dedicated to fostering the physical, social, and emotional health of Utah’s children. We recognize that while children comprise 30% of our population, they are 100% of Utah’s future.

Our children are the most valuable and the most vulnerable members of our community, and they are the most in need of the various safety nets that we as a state provide. 171,791 of our children depend on Medicaid for their physical and mental health care, yet the legislature is proposing Medicaid cuts to the hospitals, doctors and Accountable Care Organizations that serve these children... just when the children’s needs are increasing.

666,000 children are in Utah K-12 schools. That is one-fifth of our population. A child’s personal success in life, and our community’s success in the future, depend on a fully funded excellent education. Our legislature is proposing cutbacks to our already threadbare-funded public schools. They want to decrease the money that goes to school libraries and to early literacy and school readiness programs. Utah already has the poorest funded schools of all of the states. We have already cut away any fat, any inefficiencies, and further cuts will be to bone and muscle.

These severe budget cuts to children’s services are not needed. Why would we cut away portions of our community’s safety net for children when we have $5.4 Billion in our state’s bank account? That is approximately 5 times the current need. No parent would let their children go hungry, just to keep a larger reserve in the bank. None would keep the first aid kit intact (un-opened) on the shelf, when the children are bleeding.

It appears that in our time of crisis our elected leaders are panicking, afraid that our economy will forever stay depressed. They seem to have little faith in the resiliency of Utah’s businesses, or in the tenacity of Utah’s workers. Yet the scientists tell us that this pandemic will be defeated in a year or two, and the economists tell us that our economy will recover.

Our children are our future, our hope. We cannot abandon them now, cannot pull the safety net out from under them, when they need us most. Our elected leaders should show a bit of courage and faith, and use the money in our state’s bank account, and leave our kids’ safety net intact.

Utah Health Policy Project: Stacy Stanford: "Utah Health Policy Project urges restraint when it comes to decisions about budget cuts. Instead, we call on Utah's elected officials to pass a resolution urging Congress to take urgent action on additional COVID-19 responselegislation, including a significant boost in Medicaid funding that would provide fiscal relief and economic stimulus for the state." 

Clint Cottam, Community Action Partnership of Utah: CAP Utah recognizes the work of legislators in keeping Utah fiscally strong. It is because of their work in the past that Utah has built its rainy-day fund and has bonding capacity of approximately 3 billion dollars. These resources leave Utah well-positioned to invest in the future during this economic downturn.

House leadership is already discussing opportunities to invest in Utah’s future. In a May 17, 2020 article in the Deseret News, House Speaker Wilson addressed bonding as a potential way to make strategic infrastructure investments in urban and rural areas of the state.  CAP Utah deeply appreciates House Speaker Wilson for his creativity and long-term vision. As a state association for Utah’s 9 Community Action Agencies who stabilize and help families move towards self-sufficiency, it is our hope state lawmakers will continue to invest in people as well.  Legislators can utilize bonding and rainy-day funds to fill revenue gaps before cutting educational and social services that build Utah’s Human Capital and care for the most vulnerable in Utah communities. 

Investing in Utahns right now also means be cautious about when to make cuts. The full impacts of COVID-19 are still unknown. Stimulus checks, tax refunds, and pandemic unemployment insurance have stabilized rents and mortgages, medical costs, food, and other basic needs for the past several months, but what happens when these resources are gone? Will evictions and homelessness increase? What extra support will minority populations who have been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 need?  What will happen with future COVID-19 outbreaks? What lost jobs will not return and how many workers will need new skills to obtain employment? How will schools and childcare change and will these changes support working parents? 

Until some of these questions can be answered, CAP Utah encourages lawmakers to utilize the tools available to them now, avoid devastating budget cuts, and invest in Utahns as much as possible to ensure a full economic recovery.

Benjamin Session, Executive Director, Circles Salt Lake: “We recognize that our legislature is prudent when it comes to managing the finances of the State.  This is one of the reasons why the State of Utah is recognized as a national leader in economic growth and fiscal governance.  However, Utahns just experienced a once-in-a generation shock that could have permanent negative consequences if the appropriate response isn’t delivered.  Now is time to experience the benefits of our fiscal prudence and maintain the current level of services that are being offered to our vulnerable families.  With the appropriate local and national support, many of potential devastating consequences that come from homelessness, food insecurity, and financial instability can be avoided.  We believe that our families will bounce back with fewer economic scars if this course is followed.”  

Alyssa Belford, Open Doors Circles Davis County: Circles Davis County’s mission is to work families out of poverty, getting them to self-sufficiently. It’s the funding that allows our program to help families break the cycle of poverty and overcome barriers. With funding, Circles is able to encourage many to work towards their dreams and be financially stable. When my mom went through this program four years ago, the support and lessons from Circles Staff is what helped her achieve a bachelors degree. It also allowed for a teen’s voice to be heard about the need for a youth program to address the trauma of growing up in poverty. Yet, it took months until we had enough funding for the curriculum. The less money that is given to programs like ours means less money for the services that we can offer, less opportunities for those that need it, less safe places for those that seek it, and less food for those that are hungry. While we work to reduce inter-generational poverty and target the whole family, a major budget cut would hugely impact the support that we can offer. Without proper funding towards these great programs, my mom would still be in deep poverty with no college degree to which I would probably follow down the same pathway. While we understand the reasoning behind the budget cuts proposed from the legislators, we assert the importance of funding now more than ever. We might not always be dealing with Covid-19. But, we will always be dealing with the issues that affect the families that we serve, and for that, we need continued funding.  

Ruie Byrd, Circles Davis County: see video

Jessie Mandle, Voices for Utah Children: “A public health crisis is not the time to make hasty, unnecessary cuts to vital public health services for kids & families. It is not the time to cut funding for programs designed to preventmore serious health crises or emergencies. Yet this is what we are seeing. Rather than speed up recovery, many of the proposed cuts will only prolong our current public health and economic crises and deepen hardship for the Utah families most at risk. These cuts include: new funding that helps thousands more children obtain stable, continuous health insurance; funding for maternal mental health screening and outreach; home-visiting programs for at-risk mothers; cuts to Utah’s CHIP program, among many others.  

The pandemic has heightened the deep structural inequalities in our health care system and the health disparities affecting Utah families along lines of race and ethnicity. Unfortunately, these unnecessary cuts will only widen those disparities, creating more systemic barriers to care. We urge Utah leaders to instead prioritize health equity in this moment, prioritize a Utah where all kids and families can stay safe, stay healthy and thrive.”

Steve Erickson, Crossroads Urban Center: “Perhaps the unkindest cut of all proposed would be to the state’s General Assistance Program. “GA” serves some of the poorest and most vulnerable of Utahns, many of whom are homeless and without any other means of support due to no fault of their own.

GA provides a small monthly and time-limited cash assistance grant and case management services to low-income single adults and married couples who are unable to work due to a temporary or permanently disabling condition. A large percentage of those who receive GA are found eligible for federal Social Security Disability Insurance, thanks to the assistance of DWS social workers and their networks who expedite that process.

The proposed cut to GA is $1,500,000, or 31.5% of the $4.7 m. General Fund budget for the program, which is mostly state funded. GA is particularly vulnerable to a selective cut because this suggested reduction would decrease funding to match the current caseload, meaning no one currently receiving services would lose assistance. (The Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee voted down a motion to remove cuts to GA from consideration.) Folks applying for General Assistance would be relegated to a waiting list, something advocates worked successfully for years to prevent. 

However, as more people lose their jobs and income in the pandemic-induced recession, the demand for services and the caseload for GA will increase, as it did during the Great Recession. Without GA, we would abandon hundreds of our fellow citizens to the mercies of the streets. Surely we can do better – and are better – than this!”

Rep. Suzanne Harrison (D, Salt Lake County) and Rep. Dan Johnson (R, Cache County) spoke last, expressing the concerns that they shared that “State budget cuts must not affect education, social services” in the Deseret News on May 31st.

VIDEO: The event was recorded live and can be viewed in its entirety here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=310917450306042 

MEDIA COVERAGE: Salt Lake Tribune: https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2020/06/11/advocates-call-state-tap/     Deseret News: https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/6/11/21287952/legislature-budget-coronavirus-advocates-plead-with-legislators-not-to-cut-funding-most-vulnerable     Tribune op-ed: https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2020/06/01/matthew-weinstein-why-is/ 

Special Session media coverage a week later: Tribune: https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2020/06/17/utah-spending-plan-would/