September 19, 2003

Commentary

Texas shows state budget cuts hurt poor, Hispanic

By Marcela Urrutia

State budget cuts are hurting the poor and the Hispanic. Take Texas, for example. While many look on with amusement at the shenanigans of the Texas legislature, behind the bluster and the colorful tactics are real issues and flesh-and-blood people

It is these people —the mom struggling to feed her kids, the elderly person with disabilities, the sick kid whose parents can’t afford a doctor -- who will have to carry the brunt of the budget cuts the Texas leadership is making. The Republican leadership of the 78th Texas legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Perry pushed through legislation cutting health-care services for hundreds of thousands of low-income children.

Other cuts cost elderly and disabled individuals their community health services. The state government also slashed programs for child abuse prevention, tuberculosis treatment, and indigent care. And to top it off, the governor may in the near future call a special session to dismantle the school-finance system that currently ensures equity between rich and poor school districts.

These cuts disproportionately affect the state’s 6.7 million Hispanics, who make up one-third of the Texas population. Of the 3.1 million Texas living below the poverty line in 2001, 1.9 million were Hispanic, and Hispanic children currently make up a majority of those in the children’s health insurance program and a majority of the children covered by the state’s Medicaid program.

You might think that elected officials in control of the purse strings would at least feign concern for the impact their policies would have upon the Hispanic community. After all, many of these politicians boast of learning key phrases in Spanish and posing for pictures at Cinco de Mayo celebrations. But these politicians have turned their backs on the Hispanic community when it matters the most.

Without question, the legislature began this January with all the prerequisites for a challenging session. Facing a $10 billion budget shortfall, something had to give. But it is hard not to feel that the state government is out of step with the needs of its people when at the same time that he dropped children from basic access to health care, Perry called for investing $10 million in mapping the DNA of cows.

Texas is by no means alone. Many of the 50 states are struggling with dire budget deficits. Already, states have cut between $20 billion and 40 billion, according to the New York Times. California alone is looking to cut $8 billion, “with the cuts likely to fall most heavily on education and aid to the poor,” the Times said.

States are raising college tuitions costs by double digits, effectively closing the door on many prospective students. And as in Texas, other states are slashing basic health-care provisions.

For low-income Americans, many of them Latino, the results are painfully clear. States are breaking their promise to give everyone a chance at the American dream.

Marcela Urrutia is a policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, and umbrella organization for more than 300 community-based organizations nationwide, dedicated to improving opportunities for Hispanics. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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