Monday, January 03, 2011

How will poor fare in Austin in 2011?

Fifteen months ago, Texas governor, Rick Perry appointed Tom Suehs Executive Commissioner, Texas Health and Human Services Commission.  This may have been the governor's best appointment during his historic term.  Suehs manages to get along with both sides of the predominately Republican Texas legislature.  He speaks bluntly, pulls few punches and understands what's at stake for the poorest residents of Texas as the state faces an historic $24 billion budget gap over the next two years.  Suehs understands that facing such a budget challenge legislators will find programs for the weak, the poor and the marginalized easy targets for cuts.  But Suehs' understanding of the problems of both the state and the poor make him a key player in the work that will begin later this month in Austin. 

Here's the report that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Saturday, January 1, 2011:

Texas' social services chief expects agonizing budget process
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – As lawmakers gear up to hunt for every penny they can use against an unprecedented budget gap, Texas' safety net for the poor and vulnerable figures to get a lot of scrutiny.

The Legislature's Republican leadership will confront weighty questions, such as how many children the state can afford to provide medical care for and what level of care and supervision can be provided for the elderly and disabled.

At lawmakers' elbows will be the chief of state social services, Tom Suehs. He predicts an agonizing process.

"There are not too many nice and easy decisions," he said recently. "That's why they're going to migrate to cutting some of the optional" services in Medicaid, a health program covering 3.3 million poor children, pregnant women and frail adults.

But Suehs (pronounced "seas") is quick to add that optional services – which can be taken away from adults on the program, though not from youngsters – are not frills. Cuts will be costly and painful.

"I want to do a better job of describing the balloon effects," he said. "If you squeeze the community mental health, you're going to end up possibly with more people in prison, and that'll cost money over there."

Advocates for the needy hold out hope that the former lobbyist will prove to be the man of the hour. At the very least, they predict Suehs – fully vested in the state pension system and with nothing to lose – won't gloss over the consequences of reduced funding.

"Tom's been a straight shooter," said disability rights advocate Bob Kafka of Austin, who has known Suehs for decades.

Read the entire report here.

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