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All in the Family 

Children’s Action Alliance report card shows how the schools and the social safety net are being shredded in Arizona

click to enlarge Rep. Victoria Steele

Rep. Victoria Steele

If you've seen the recent headlines about 1,600 down-on-their-luck families losing their monthly Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits beginning in July of next year, you know something about how the recently passed state budget is hitting Arizona's neediest.

The Children's Action Alliance last week released a report card that highlights how the budget cuts and other legislative action is making it harder to get by in Arizona.

It was a pretty rough session from the perspective of the CAA, which focuses on legislation affecting children and their families in the middle class and below.

"This budget was horrible for children and families," said CAA Vice President Amy Kobeta. "And the budget really dominated this legislative session. While there were some advances in terms of child safety, they were overshadowed by how detrimental this fiscal plan is."

Among the unhappy results:

• The aforementioned cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Arizona's new lifetime limit of one year for TANF benefits is the lowest in the nation. The program provides cash assistance for families living at or below the poverty level—which means a single mom with two kids isn't eligible for aid if she earns more than $1,628 a month, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The amount available depends on a family's situation; a family of three with no income is eligible for up to $278 a month.

• The state's new Department of Child Safety—revamped after multiples scandals, including the failure to investigate thousands of cases—was cut by $11 million.

• Various K-12 education programs were cut by $146 million.

• The state zeroed out its contribution to the federal program that provides vouchers to low-income moms for childcare costs so the women can find stable work. The state used to provide $80 million before Gov. Jan Brewer took over the governor's office in 2011; it had just agreed to start spending $4 million this year, but eliminated that funding.

• Housing funds, youth treatment funds and a trial mental-health first aid program designed to train people to respond to mental-health episodes were all zeroed out.

While Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers say such cuts are necessary in pursuit of a balanced budget, Naimark notes that they are continuing to reduce the money available to the state via tax cuts. In this session, Ducey signed legislation that would cut the income tax by a growing amount every year by indexing it to inflation. (The estimated cost this year is $6 million and next year is $9 million.) He also cut business income taxes by requiring state law to mirror federal tax law, so a federal depreciation credit will now be available to state filers, too; the cost of that is $31 million in the current fiscal year.

Kobeta said those new tax cuts are in addition to corporate tax cuts that have been phasing in since lawmakers put them in place several years ago.

"Instead of stopping those tax cuts from taking effect, our Legislature has just allowed them to take effect, making it harder to fund vital services," Kobeta said. "And then, on top of that, Gov. Ducey said we will have a balanced budget and we will only spend what we have, and they passed a budget and immediately after that, they passed tax cuts. So we are getting messages from our legislative leadership that tax cuts come first."

Asked whether new tax cuts would make it harder to restore funding to various safety-net programs, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said Ducey's "goal is to grow our economy and help Arizonans transition from government assistance to gainful employment. The policy decisions made this session were done with that priority in mind. By finally bringing our budget into structural balance, we can now have meaningful discussions about how to move Arizona forward."

There were a few bright spots highlighted on CAA's report card:

• Former foster kids will be eligible for tuition waivers at state universities.

• The Department of Child Safety will be required to release more information in cases where a child under their supervision is killed or nearly killed.

• Some bills, including predatory lending and additional tax-cut legislation bills, died in the state Senate.

Here's how Southern Arizona lawmakers ranked in the report card: Sens. David Bradley (D-LD10), Olivia Cajero Bedford (D-LD3), Andrea Dalessandro (D-LD2) and Steve Farley (D-LD9) and Reps. Randy Freise (D-LD9), Rosanna Galbadon (D-LD2), Sally Ann Gonzales (D-LD3), Stefanie Mach (D-LD10), Macario Saldate (D-LD3), Victoria Steele (D-LD9), Bruce Wheeler (D-LD10) scored 100 percent.

State Rep. Christopher Ackerly (R-LD2) scored 86 percent.

State Sen. Gail Griffin (R-LD14) and State Sen. Steve Smith (R-LD11scored 60 percent.

State Reps. Mark Finchem (R-LD11), David Gowan (R-LD14), Vince Leach (R-LD14) and David Stevens (R-LD11) scored 43 percent.

More by Jim Nintzel

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