The Gospel this weekend reminds us that Jesus comes to us to bring sight to the blind, let the lame walk again, cleanse the lepers, bring hearing to the deaf, raise the dead and to proclaim the good news to the poor. The news is not good for thousands of Rhode Island poor families. They face devastating cuts in assistance and aid from state agencies. Many of them face the prospect of no health insurance coverage for themselves and their children.
This “bad news” for the poor is in large part due to a cost cutting plan proposed by Governor Carcieri. The Rhode Island Department of Human Services heeding the Governor’s call to trim the budget due to the huge deficit will make cuts that affect thousands of Rhode Islanders including children in poor families. These “least among us” stand to lose coverage from RIte Care, the state funded health insurance program. These cutbacks in health care will be coupled with cutbacks in all assistance as state leaders grapple with the looming $450 million budget deficit facing the state.
The changes in the RIte Care program would reduce eligibility requirements from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 133 percent. The Department of Human Services estimates that nearly 8,000 children would lose coverage as a result of the change. This would place Rhode Island behind other New England states in providing healthcare to needy children according to Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of RI Kids Count. Bryant suggested that “it’s disturbing to see this budget proposal.””
These are disturbing financial times in our nation but especially in Rhode Island. There are no easy answers and no quick fixes to the huge deficit. However, we urge Governor Carcieri and the leadership of the General Assembly to remember that the state budget is more than a fiscal plan; it reflects our values as a people. Budget choices have clear moral and human dimensions. The poor and needy should not be forced to endure choices that force them to live without health care, affordable housing, and basic needs.
A just society is one that protects and promotes the fundamental rights of its members--with special attention to meeting the basic needs, including the need for safe and affordable health care, of the poor and needy in our midst. In these difficult fiscal times for our state, we urge all of our state leaders to work for a budget that does not neglect the needs of the "least of these.”