Commentary: Unnecessary budget cuts will harm Utah families

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) In this Jan. 27 photo, he floor of the Utah House of Representatives is viewed during the Utah legislative session in Salt Lake City.

A public health crisis is not the time to make rushed cuts to critical public health and social services. Yet this is precisely what Utah state legislative leaders are considering: funding cuts to vital programs and services that support the health and well-being of Utah kids, families and communities.

These proposed budget cuts will greatly harm the health of Utah families and leave us in a worse position to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The devastating impact of the proposed cuts will reverberate throughout our state immediately and for years to come. The impact to our children includes:

• More children with unmet health care needs:

Proposals include cutting funds for pediatric safety-net health care providers and eliminating new funding to ensure children have consistent, year-round health insurance. Utah already ranks among the worst 10 states for our high rate of uninsured children. The pandemic threatens to leave more children uninsured or unable to access care. Because of Coronavirus, children are missing out on their well-child visits and immunizations at alarming rates. Pediatric offices across the state are seeing a significant decline in volume for infant and child health care appointments. Proposed cuts undermine progress we have made for Utah children’s health care. If we fail to help children get the preventive care they need now, we could be facing new childhood disease outbreaks, or even epidemics, in the future.

• An increase in children and families facing mental and behavioral health crises:

Proposals include cutting funds for home-visiting programs for at-risk new mothers, postpartum depression support and mental health crisis services. These past few years, Utah made significant strides in strengthening our statewide mental health system including support for children, youth and mothers. We all know the toll this crisis is having on our collective and individual mental and emotional psyches. The proposed cuts would severely diminish our state’s ability to address the trauma and adverse conditions so many parents and kids are facing right now. Failure to address current trauma-related stresses in a timely fashion could affect children through their entire lives.

• Thwarting efforts to advance health equity and reduce disparities:

Proposals include cutting funds for primary care grants that help underserved children access care, closing safety-net clinics, and cuts to state programs dedicated to reducing health disparities through data and research. This crisis is exposing how our health care systems, policies and processes have disproportionately disadvantaged Utah children and their families along lines of race and ethnicity. We must work together to advance solutions so that all Utah families can access care and live healthy lives. This is the moment for our state leaders to prioritize health equity.

Not only are the proposed budget cuts harmful to our children’s health, they are unnecessary and hasty. Utah has enough funding in reserves and federal relief funds to address our current challenges. As a state, we are better positioned to handle this crisis than most states because of prudent decisions our state leaders have made in the past. With the health and wellbeing of our families in mind, Utah has prepared well for a moment such as this.

We urge our state leaders to stand by the commitments we have made as a state and use the available levers we have now to ensure public health care and social services remain intact.

Utah cannot recover and move forward if we are taking away essential services, just when many families need them the most.

Paul Wirkus

Paul Wirkus, M.D., is president of the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Ciriac Alvarez Valle

Ciriac Alvarez Valle, is a policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children.

Jessie Mandle

Jessie Mandle, is a senior policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children.