After the State Legislature approved a budget with some very deep cuts, Gov. Mike Dunleavy used his veto pen to cut another $444 Million. These cuts will profoundly impact the life of all Alaskans, including the Homer area. In conversations with some of the Homer Foundation’s partners we know that as a result of this budget local nonprofits will lose significant funding.
There is misunderstanding by some that the philanthropic sector can fill these budget holes. This is wishful thinking. In 2018 total philanthropic giving in Alaska added up to approximately $135 million. This is only a portion of the cuts in the budget even before the Governor’s vetoes.
As a leading local distributor of funds, last fiscal year the Homer Foundation distributed $150,000 in grants and scholarships. We are proud of our fund holders, donors and volunteers who love this community and help their neighbors by giving to the foundation.
What does this mean for our community? Our partners tell us the loss of state funding will mean layoffs, lost matching grants, and reduced help for members of our community that need it most. Here are just some of the outcomes:
■ Medicaid dental services: Some 300 adults who receive dental care at the SVT Health Center each year would lose access to those services due to loss of the state’s Medicaid adult dental benefit.
■ Early childhood: Funding is eliminated for Head Start and other early ed programs. Homer’s Head Start serves twenty children aged 3 to 5. In addition, elimination of the Best Beginnings program could cut enrollment in half for the local Homer Imagination Library program, which provides hundreds of kids here with early-reader books.
■ South Peninsula Hospita: Medicaid cuts — first by the Legislature, then by the governor — will cost the hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Short-term impacts in Long Term Care would likely be reduced staffing. Cuts to Medicaid and behavioral health treatment grants will divert patients into the emergency room, where care is more expensive and hospitals have to cover without reimbursement.
■ Homer seniors: Elderly living at or near poverty area count on the state’s need-based senior benefits program, which was eliminated. Monthly grants of $76 to $250 were used by seniors for food, rent and medicine. Exact figures aren’t available, but the state counts 1,200 recipients on the Kenai Peninsula.
■ Arts: Elimination of the Alaska State Council on the Arts will punch a $20,000 hole in the budget of the Homer Council on the Arts, or 12-15 percent of its budget.
■ Behavioral Health Services: State mental health grants used to pay for state-required services that are not covered by insurance, such as emergencies at the hospital or police station, are eliminated — cutting income up to $250,000 in the budget of the South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services.
■ The Homeless Assistance Program: Run by South Peninsula Haven House, it will be cut by at least $60,000 due to the near-elimination of the state’s homeless assistance grants.
■ Economic loss: In 2018 the Homer area nonprofit sector accounted for $5.9 million in revenues, of which $2.4 million was new money into the area. Much of this was federal matching funds which require State funding to qualify for the Federal portion.
By noting theses impacts we are not entering the political conversation. That is for others. Some would argue that a large PFD will help all Alaskans. We’re not debating the merits of that argument either. Our role here is to inform the community of the very real local adverse consequences resulting from this budget. Whatever your position on the issue, be informed.
Mike Miller is the Executive Director of the Homer Foundation. The Homer Foundation is the oldest community foundation in the State of Alaska and annually awards grants and scholarships. In 2018 the foundation award $150,000 in the Homer area.