By Anna-Ellen Lenart

Massachusetts is considering $1 billion in budget cuts. So, what would $1 billion in cutbacks look like for Massachusetts?

These dollars would be taken from essential services such as social programs, schools, and infrastructure. The impact on our communities would be devastating. Programs that would have an especially heavy toll include social and health services, community-based agencies, and aid to cities. This would greatly reduce preventative services that positively impact youth and our communities. This is poor accounting, since preventative care costs less than subsequent treatment services.

One area of mounting concern is teenage pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control reports that although birth rates have increased across all age groups, the highest jump is among teenagers.

This situation is a grave concern, because young, single mothers are at high risk for raising their children in poverty. And there is plenty of evidence to show that poor children are far less likely to reach school prepared to succeed than their non-poor peers. In the long run, providing after-the-fact services instead of preventing teen pregnancy will cost taxpayers far more than $1 billion.

One way to resolve this issue is to explore new revenue sources and stop the budget cuts. No one likes raising taxes, but even a 0.5 percent state income tax increase would generate substantial revenue for the state. This is not small change being taken out of your pocket, but if it means vastly higher quality in education, prevention, and social services, and getting more out of your tax money over time, isn’t this worth it?

Raising the state income tax is just one way to increase revenue. How about adding sales tax to purchases made over the internet, or decreasing spending in another area, for example renegotiating state contracts?

Another way to resolve this issue is to support proposals that promote prevention and fund educational social programs -- policies that directly impact families and communities.

One such proposal that is currently being examined aims to make comprehensive health and sex education a core requirement in public schools across Massachusetts.

The proposal would end the disparities among school districts in regard to health and sex education. Some school districts have comprehensive health classes as a requirement to graduate, whereas districts in poor communities are likely to have “optional” classes which are typically the first items cut from the budget.

The program would allow adolescents from many different socio-economic levels to be educated on topics such as reproduction, disease prevention, violence prevention, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships. Children and teens would be educated in school and the entire burden would not be left up to parents and caretakers to cover this wide range of important topics.

Having worked with at-risk youth for the past five years in many different settings, I know the difference prevention though education makes. Many teens lack simple knowledge and skills that could have dramatically changed the course of their lives.

Cutting $1 billion in essential services that invest in our communities and our future is not the solution to the current economic state. It will only increase spending on remedial services, such as medical care for high-risk teen pregnancies, and welfare payments to support fragile, young families. Instead, Massachusetts must explore other areas of revenue and support preventative investments for the betterment of our communities.
Lenart, age 27, is a social worker.
Copyright © 2009 by the Massachusetts Forum. 5/09