The elections last November brought major changes to state capitols: 28 new governors, an estimated 25% turnover in legislative seats as well as shifts in party control in 17 governors’ mansions and 22 legislative chambers. As the new governors take office and appoint their cabinets and senior advisers, they face tough choices about priorities for funding and for their attention.
2011 will be a challenging and difficult year for state policymakers and for children. Tax revenues have dropped because of the still-struggling economy. At the same time, need for public services has continued to grow, especially where children and families are concerned. New research has suggested a strong correlation between economic downturns and increases in child abuse and neglect cases, and that is being borne out in communities across the country. The result, inevitably, will be that programs will be cut at the very time when they are most needed.
CASA programs are among those being affected by state budget cutbacks. A few examples:
- The Texas legislature has proposed across-the-board cuts for all state-funded programs, including the state’s CASA program. An editorial by two staff members of the Bluebonnet CASA program argued against the cuts: “Texas’ lawmakers have a choice: Intervene early or see some of these children later— those who survive to adulthood—in the criminal justice system. The cost for the latter is a far higher price in terms of human suffering and taxpayers’ dollars. The solution is clear: Continue to support the growth of CASA volunteers so that eventually the gap is eliminated.”
- Ulster County, NY, has proposed slashing funding for the local CASA program from $25,000 to $15,000. One community member angrily asked: “If this is a proven money saver, keeps kids out of our jail system and possibly keeps families together longer, then why would we cut something rather than increase the funding? I don’t get it.”
- King County, WA—the birthplace of the CASA movement—was facing devastating cuts, including the potential elimination of volunteer supervisors and dependency CASA attorneys. Ending funding for dependency CASA attorneys would have required CASA volunteers to proceed in court on their own, while all other parties have attorney representation. Judge Bruce Hilyer wrote that this inequity in representation “in such an adversarial and high stakes court setting where all other parties have attorneys will result in poorer advocacy for children.” The county restored funding only after an aggressive lobbying and letter-writing campaign, and no cuts in staff were necessary.
- Meanwhile, some local governments are offering creative proposals to protect funding for those in need. In Nebraska, for example, Senator Amanda McGill has proposed creating a new grant program funded by a small increase on court fees, which would expand the CASA program into counties currently not served and provide grants for training and recruiting CASA volunteers.
We will be watching the news this spring as state legislatures continue to grapple with difficult budget decisions. Let us know what your state has proposed by posting in the comments area or by writing firstname.lastname@example.org.