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As coronavirus changes our lives, impact of subsequent state budget cuts could be severe
Our country is frantically rushing to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. Never mind the costs: With lives at stake, this is no time to worry about dollars. Already over 106,000 Americans are dead and unemployment is at record levels.
If we must spend billions to develop a vaccine, so be it. Likewise, we have already spent billions in an effort to deal with the economic devastation wrought by the virus. We will ultimately spend far more.
But the effects of COVID-19 go beyond the destruction of human life and the damage to employment and the economy. The virus has attacked the human spirit. Faced with illness, unemployment, the death of loved ones, the stress of lock-down and other destroyers of dreams, a vast number of people – often including our neighbors and co-workers – have fallen prey to emotional issues of life-altering severity.
Our epidemic does not come only in the form of a virus. We are also faced with rising levels of addictive disease, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse and criminal behavior born of desperation – not to mention human misery.
As we respond to the medical and economic emergency, we must not forget the terrible toll that the pandemic is taking on the human psyche. In some cases the symptoms may not be as superficially evident, but they are nonetheless doing their dreadful work, rending families, inflicting emotional damage on children, destroying careers and dashing dreams.
As our state turns its attentions to the budgetary problems resulting from the virus, what may not be apparent is the need to address the mental health crisis just as we address the physical health and economic health issues. In truth, they are interconnected.
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There’s a Mother Goose proverb about a horseshoe that goes something like this.
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost
For want of a horse, the rider was lost ….
And so on. Mother Goose is not rocket science, but anyone who has ever talked with someone who is homeless or someone who is in prison knows that in most cases there was a moment in their childhood when some small action could have altered the course of their life.
So here we are in the pandemic, and the governor and legislators are talking about uniformly applied 14% budget cuts. Such suggestions are not thought-out, and we need to contact our representatives as they return to Atlanta and tell the so. As was noted above, lives are at stake.
For example, among the things to be eliminated here in the midstate is Macon Recovers, a peer led Addiction Recovery Support Center that has served about 300 persons a month, providing over 14,000 services. If statewide such facilities have aided even a few sufferers, they are a magnificent bargain compared to prisons
Without such services, low-cost as they are, social problems will continue to mushroom as the number of people incarcerated and on probation mounts. Already 1 in 17 state dollars are said to go to the corrections system. Even as the number of state prisoners held nationwide has declined, Georgia’s numbers continue to rise. Where are our values?
In the midst of death, sickness and misery, this crisis provides the state leadership the opportunity to rethink our priorities. People are suffering. Should we lock them up or give them the tools to put their lives back together?
I look around me and see people in misery, especially the impoverished and the poorly paid. They need our help now more than ever. Who am I to judge the suffering? The old axiom comes to mind: “There but for the grace of God go I.”