by Tara Morgan
Perhaps no other issue garnered more emotion in last year's session of the Idaho Legislature than the debate over Medicaid. Tears flowed as scores of disabled Idahoans made their way to the Statehouse to beg that their services not be victimized by draconian budget cuts. The same debates are expected to reoccur in the coming months.
Lea Bowman understands the struggle of the disabled and infirm as well as anyone. She's a mastered social worker who provides hospice care. When Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and the Idaho Legislature again begin debating on what stays and what goes in a state budget, Bowman wants them to consider those who don't traditionally have a voice at the Statehouse.
"Budget cuts hurt already vulnerable populations, never the wealthy," said Bowman. "The wealthy do not depend on Medicaid for their healthcare, food stamps for their meals, and subsidized housing for their shelter. These are the programs that suffer cuts when there are budget shortfalls, because these programs are funded by the dirtiest word in Idaho: taxes."
Bowman said it's heartbreaking to consider the fate of men, women and children whose lives hang in the balance when budgets are slashed and burned.
"I find it astonishing that we think we can leave people stranded with challenges like severe mental illness, substance abuse issues, overwhelming disability, or just the ever more common story of being laid off—plus cut education and services for at-risk families—and expect crime rates to stay low, maintenance of a healthy workforce, connected communities, strong families, and a good environment for new business. The only thing that keeps money flowing into our government, and therefore sustaining vital human programs, is taxes. I wish the Idaho Legislature would get over its irrational fear of the idea and have some honest discussions about tax system restructuring. It is a huge elephant in the room in this state but seems the easiest and best way we can take care of our most vulnerable, as well as invest in the future of Idaho."