COVID-19 has cut lives short and put livelihoods in jeopardy. To confront this public health emergency, we have expanded testing capacity, worked with the state to expand local hospital capacity, and expanded public health capacity. However, we have to also confront the job loss and economic pain many families are feeling in this moment. That’s why we are working hard to complete a budget that expands our social safety net to help vulnerable families.
Unfortunately, though, the Shelby County Commission has voted to approve several budget cuts that will put in jeopardy our ability to meet our community’s need. For instance, the Commission has voted to approve a $3.2 million cut to Shelby County Emergency Preparedness, a $2.6 million cut to the Shelby County Fire Department, a $481,000 cut to public health, a $9.3 million cut to the Ryan White HIV program, $620,000 cut to poverty assistance (including utility assistance), a $3 million cut in funding to repair our roads, a $172,000 cut to criminal justice programming, a $219,000 cut to our program that helps prevent air pollution, and an $80,000 cut to crime victim assistance and assistance to seniors. They have also cut $65 million for school construction from Shelby County’s 5-year budget plan. This money would have provided a first-rate learning environment for kids that might have changed life trajectories.
Unless something changes, these cuts could also put in jeopardy jobs and the hard-earned benefits of County employees.
Like every other local government, we have major challenges and we will have to tighten our belts. However, we should not make cuts that negatively impact our vital programs or put at risk employee jobs and hard-earned benefits.
Think about just one of the programs mentioned above, the Ryan White program. Shelby County has one of the highest HIV rates in the country and has, by far, the highest rate in the state. Now is not the time to end vital funding for HIV prevention, which is the focus of the Ryan White program. In Shelby County, more than 6,000 residents live with HIV or AIDS. More than half of those with HIV/AIDS in Shelby County receive services from this program.
This is one of the toughest periods in Shelby County history. But I believe elected officials should be able to complete a budget in a reasonable fashion, without draconian cuts. I believe we should take care and preserve our vital programs. In this era of COVID-19, we need these programs now probably more than ever before. Please contact your Commissioner and ask them to reconsider their decision to cut vital programs.
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