What makes a recession so challenging for state and federal budgets is that tax revenue declines at the same time demand for services increases. It's a double whammy.
The same problem occurs for many of those providing government-supported services: Their funding drops while the recession causes needs to rise.
For example, the Sunday Eagle reported how Kansas' three state mental hospitals were over capacity at least one-third of the time during the past fiscal year. And twice this summer the institutions were forced to close their doors to voluntary admissions due to overcrowded facilities.
Much of the increase in mental illnesses is precipitated by economic stress — a job loss, home foreclosure, mounting debt or loss of insurance. But at the same time more people were needing help, the state reduced funding, causing great strain on the mental-health system. Even a planned expansion of Osawatomie State Hospital, which would have added needed capacity to the system, was shelved due to budget cuts.
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A commentary at the bottom of this page describes a similar strain on the state's court system. Last fiscal year, the judicial branch's budget was reduced by almost 14 percent, yet the down economy is resulting in more bankruptcies, foreclosures, collections cases and domestic disputes.
Though they don't face quite the same problems, many school districts have seen increases in enrollment — perhaps partly because some families can no longer afford to send their children to private schools. The schools also may have to deal with the effects of recession-related family stress on students. And while state funding was cut last fiscal year and held flat this year, the achievement demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law have kept increasing.
The Kansas Health Policy Authority also is struggling due to the combination of budget cuts and increased demand. The federal government warned it recently to clear a backlog of more than 32,000 unprocessed applications for health care for the poor. Nearly 21,000 of those applications are more than 45 days old, which is out of compliance with federal processing requirements.
There are many other social services, both publicly and privately funded, that are facing similar challenges of having to do more with less. Unfortunately, they're unlikely to get much relief until the economy improves and the double whammy starts working in reverse.