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State budget cuts could end ‘important programs’ | Health

Potential cuts to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services are looking grim for the county and the rest of the state, said Matt Kelley, health officer with the Gallatin City-County Health Department

“In some cases, these cuts are not ‘trims’ but rather a wholesale discontinuation of important programs, particularly some related to mental health and children with developmental needs,” Kelley said in a report.

Because the state experienced lower revenue than expected, Gov. Steve Bullock is mandated to make 10 percent budget cuts across state departments’ budgets. DPHHS has proposed a slash of roughly $105 million to its budget over the next year, Kelley said.

Though the cuts have not yet been implemented, discussion within state agencies has been stirring on what to expect if budgets are slashed at current proposals.

Michael Foust, executive director of the Gallatin Mental Health Center, said case management was one of the heavily targeted cuts. Case managers help people with severe mental illnesses access resources like Medicaid, refill prescriptions and do other everyday activities they may have trouble performing on their own.

Under the state’s proposal, he said adult case management would experience a 37 percent cut and child case management could expect to lose about 47 percent of its budget. Foust said other services only experienced about a 3 percent cut, which is 7 percent lower than Bullock’s requested 10 percent cut.

“It’s deep,” Foust said. “If they go to a 10 percent cut it would be hard to imagine a budget. Case management would go away.”

Fran Woolman, program manager of the Bozeman office for Family Outreach, said she finds that half of her program is in the same situation.

The office serves children who experience a delay in their development with early intervention. She said 67 percent of kids who receive that kind of help never have to have special education services later in life.

The proposed budget cuts would eliminate the program, Woolman said.

“For us, it’s incomprehensible that services for children and children with disabilities are going to be cut,” she said.

Woolman said the elimination would make Montana the only state in the country not to offer those services.

The office would still provide other programs, she said, but they would have to figure out other funding sources to try and keep the program alive, and layoffs would likely occur.

“We don’t have a problem with cuts,” Woolman said. “We have a problem with being eliminated.”

Bullock has said he would consider calling a special session for possible solutions such as raising taxes to remedy the shortfall. But he said he would need willing partners to do that, otherwise there would be no point in calling lawmakers back to Helena.

The Legislative Finance Committee will meet Wednesday and Thursday in Helena. At the meeting, the committee will receive a financial update from the governor’s budget director who will make recommendations for cuts.

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