Politics

Kentucky’s new health secretary says her state agency will meet proposed budget reductions through a variety of cost-cutting measures, such as not filling vacant positions and cutting back on travel.

Under Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed spending cuts, the cabinet’s budget will be reduced by $64 million over the next two years and $31 million this year.

Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, who heads up the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said Wednesday that implementing the cuts allows her a “clean look” at the cabinet’s programs and services.

“It does give us an opportunity to evaluate areas that certainly haven’t been delivering a satisfactory return on investment,” Glisson said.

Bevin has proposed cutting nearly all state spending by 9 percent over the next two years and 4.5 percent for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

The health cabinet’s largest expense — Medicaid — is exempt from Bevin’s proposed cuts. But other statewide programs, ranging from public health departments to behavioral health and intellectual disabilities programs, will be on the chopping block.

The largest portion of cuts — $33.7 million over the next two years, $15.8 million this year — will take place in the cabinet’s Community Based Services department. The state’s foster care system, food stamp program, domestic violence and rape crisis centers, and income assistance program are all included.

Glisson said the cabinet would reduce spending within the department by seeking more federal funding, curtailing travel expenses, and not filling vacant positions — except for “needed social workers and clinicians.”

Glisson said the maneuvering would keep the cabinet from cutting back on programs offered through the department.

“At this point, we don’t anticipate that they’re going to have an impact,” Glisson said to Rep. Joni Jenkins, chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources. “If I find out that there’s anything different than that as we move forward — for instance, if we’re not able to maximize the federal funds that we think we’re going to have — I’ll make sure to let you know.”

There are currently 228 vacancies in the Department for Community Based Services. Deputy Secretary Tim Feely said one concern for departments could be losing positions through attrition.

“If you have somebody leave, we’re going to make each department justify why that person is essential to rehire,” Feely said. “Some of those groups may get lower person slots through attrition.”

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities is facing a $16.5 million cut over the next two years and an $8 million reduction this year. The department runs the state’s community mental health centers.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat from Louisville, said she wants more details about how the cuts will be implemented in individual programs.

“To try to make up this with reducing travel, it just seems a bit … $64 million is a heck of a lot of money,” Marzian said. “I think we need a lot more specifics and how is this going to affect services to our most vulnerable folks.”

Neither the House nor the Senate has approved a counter proposal to Bevin’s budget. Lawmakers have until April 13 to pass a spending bill.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.