Several state agencies are looking at budget cuts for the coming fiscal year, and a reduction in services to Mississippians—from mental-health care to rehabilitation treatment—will inevitably put pressure on local communities and other support services to pick up the slack. In a tight budget year, cuts were perhaps inevitable, but prioritizing and spreading them across agencies are part of the budgeting process. Cuts to services that help society function in a healthy way will only hurt Mississippi's attempts to move forward out of its 50th rank, not help in any way.
Cuts to the Department of Mental Health's budget mean no more overnight chemical-dependency services for men in Mississippi state hospitals. Community-based health centers will have to make up the difference in services, if they can. But if long-term care is no longer available to those who depend on the state's resources to get it, where will those men go? We cannot properly address problems like homelessness or crime without acknowledging that access to a continuum of care is vital to decreasing those problems. Mental-health services provide a service to not only those who need them but also to the community. If services aren't provided, the community and quality of life for everyone suffer.
Cuts to the Department of Health mean decreased infant-mortality education in the state. Who will step in to raise awareness in order to drive down our state's high infant-mortality rate? Communities, hospitals and organizations such as the March of Dimes, which has a campaign to help keep babies alive, will have to step up.
We cannot properly address problems like our infant mortality rate, pre-term birth rate or high sexually transmitted infection rates by pawning off educational services on our communities and outside organizations coming into the state. The state should be held responsible for improving the sectors that keep us in last place so often. While enlisting help is not a bad idea, pushing responsibility onto financially strained communities cannot be the whole answer, either. The federal government will and has intervened when the state neglects to provide for its people. Although the state is finally getting a handle on its overworked foster-care system, the state's mental-health system is still the subject of a federal lawsuit, Troupe v. Barbour, which the U.S. Department of Justice is heavily involved in. In 2011, the DOJ found that Mississippi was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Going forward, we call on lawmakers to recognize how social services fit into the fabric of Mississippi society and our success. Rehabilitation programs are preventive measures—to keep our people healthy and get them back into society.
Infant-mortality education is a preventive measure—to educate new parents and preserve infant life in the state. We can't continue to kick the can down the road and then pay big to play defense in court later. Providing services now will prevent long-term strain on the state's budget, prevent legal recourse for not taking action, and begin to push Mississippi into a healthier and better future.