Horsford, Leslie: Welfare budget unacceptable | NevadaAppeal.com

Horsford, Leslie: Welfare budget unacceptable

Sens. Steven Horsford and Sheila Leslie said Friday the cuts to state welfare programs proposed by the governor are unacceptable.

“We need to start over,” said Horsford, D-Las Vegas, after the hearing.

The proposed budget eliminates the employment assistance program, cuts the energy assistance program for seniors, eliminates the welfare loan program, cuts in half the domestic violence, substance abuse and statutory rape education programs. It would eliminate child welfare emergency assistance and cut back the food stamps program.

At the same time, he said lawmakers were told just last week that mining companies haven’t even been audited to determine whether they are paying all the taxes they should.

“This is not shared sacrifice,” said Horsford.

“It’s like every single budget hearing, it’s worse than you thought when you read it last night,” said Leslie. “Every single hearing is like that.”

John Sasser of Washoe Legal Services protested the elimination of the TANF (welfare) Loan Program that helps disabled moms on welfare with loans until they are qualified for supplemental security income through Social Security and can pay the loan back. Without the loan program, he said those disabled mothers will have to go through the same welfare qualification performance requirements other recipients face.

“That will put 500-700 moms into the regular program knowing they will fail,” he told the committee.

Leslie asked welfare administrator Romaine Gilleland what would happen to those people.

“In real life terms, it will be devastating to those families,” he said.

Lawmakers also objected to plans to cut general fund money for the Child Care Assistance program by 70 percent. That would reduce the total budget for the program by 10 percent, according to Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden.

Nonetheless, he admitted that would reduce the number of child care slots available by up to 1,100. Horsford joined his colleagues in questioning how single parents trying to get off welfare and into a job could do that without child care.

At the same time, the budget proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval contains a $10 million new appropriation for the Silver State jobs program that would provide businesses with a subsidy in return for hiring additional workers.

Leslie said in better times that would be a “great experiment.” But in the state’s current fiscal situation, she said that money should be used to restore some of the cuts and protect services going to Nevada’s most vulnerable.

“We’re going to spend $10 million to give subsidies to businesses with no guarantees they’re going to hire people?” she asked.

Under questioning from Horsford, Gilleland said those subsidies could keep people employed up to six months but that there are no guarantees the jobs would be permanent.

“I want this program to work for people who need jobs,” said Horsford.

But he said the money shouldn’t come from the general fund but, possibly, through a break in what a business pays in the modified business tax.

Willden said one of welfare’s problems is that its spending levels have been maintained through most of the recession by using up reserves. Those reserves, however, will soon be exhausted.

Leslie agreed with Horsford that the budget needs to be completely rebuilt but asked where the money would come from.

“We can move the deck chairs around but we can’t move them very much,” she said. “We need more revenue.”