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Cuts to State Budget Affect Most Vulnerable Montanans

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Friday, August 11, 2017   

HELENA, Mont. – The full scope of pain from impending budget cuts is coming into view for public employees and the Montanans they serve.

Lawmakers turned down a number of bills to increase the state's revenue, and now the state faces a shortfall that will lead to $70 million in cuts.

Jill Cohenour is a chemist at the Montana State Environmental Lab with the Department of Public Health and Human Services. The department will have to cut at least $14 million over the next two years. Cohenour says that means cuts to staff who serve vulnerable Montanans, such as children facing abuse and services for the elderly.

"If it's longer and longer time frames and higher and higher caseloads, I'd be afraid that something might fall through the cracks and it won't be through any fault of anyone," she says. "It's just going to be the nature of the situation and not having enough people to do these important services in every community across the state."

Cuts will affect many departments across Montana. Over the next year, more than $5 million will be cut from services that provide care for the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes, 7$ million will be cut from hospitals that serve Medicaid patients, higher education funding will lose $15 million, and more.

The Montana Historical Society will see cuts to its small staff as well.

Diane Hall, graphic designer and videographer for the historical society, says it affects 24 of the 60-person staff, with nine people being laid off. She says the society won't have enough staff to be as open to the public as it is now.

"The people of Montana love their heritage and they love the historical society, but the budget cuts are really going to affect our ability to serve the public and give them access to the collections that actually belong to the people of Montana," Hall laments.

Cohenour is frustrated state lawmakers didn't do more to stop this budget crisis. Legislators said no to a tobacco-tax increase that would have added $135 million to state coffers, and three bills that would have created new tax rates on the wealthiest one-percent of households - adding as much as $61 million - along with other bills.

"To take all of the burden of the lack of money out on the citizens of the state of Montana and on the public employees who are committed to performing those services really is very shortsighted on the part of those legislators that didn't support some of the revenue enhancers," she explains.


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