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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 23, 2009

Needy are hit hardest

By David Shapiro

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa makes an important point about proposals to use $50 million from the state's rainy day fund to end school furloughs: Depleting the fund will make it more difficult to restore state services to the poor and needy that have been chopped in the recession.

This isn't to say that buying back lost classroom time wouldn't be a worthy use of the rainy day fund; the value of a quality public education cuts across all social and economic groups, and the school closings were an egregious miscalculation that needs to be corrected.

But we must also keep in mind the painful impact of budget cuts on the poor, homeless, abused, disabled, elderly and others in need of social services.

"I feel very sorry for those who looked upon the rainy day fund as their safety net," Hanabusa said. "Now you are going to see the tug."

Most attention on budget cuts has focused on the impact on public workers and others in the middle class, but the greatest impact has been felt by the poor who have the least political clout in our society.

For example, recently it was announced that state payments to poor, temporarily disabled people were being cut by a third from $450 to $300 just as the need is mushrooming in the depressed economy.

The Healthy Start program to reduce child abuse, which once received $14 million a year, is down to $1.3 million this year.

It gives perspective to the 5 to 8 percent pay cuts being asked of state employees.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who led Hawai'i through its last recession, was pained that services to the poor were usually the first to be cut when the economy went sour and the last to be restored in a rebound.

Cayetano wrote in "Ben," his autobiography: "Business, labor unions, religious and most other special-interest groups all have the power of resources, organization and influence; the poor and the needy have only the collective conscience of their elected public servants."

Taking proper care of our schoolchildren must always be one of our highest priorities, but let's not forget our moral obligation to extend a lifeline to the most unfortunate among us in their time of greatest need.