“We all do,” said Farrow, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant, when asked if he has dealt with long waits at the office before. Farrow worries long waits make it more difficult for veterans to get the help they need. He said he thinks government officials don’t do enough for veterans.
“You serve your time and all this,” he said. “Then you get out, and it’s like they just forget about you.
“It’s just like anything else. If you keep putting it on the back burner, sooner or later, you’re just going to give up on it.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of many agencies that would see a funding cut in the version of the General Fund budget approved by the Alabama Senate late Thursday evening.
Because the Senate and House disagree on certain budget items, a special committee will be created next week in which members will have to compromise to approve an updated operating budget.
Ken Rollins, a board member of the State Board of Veterans Affairs, agreed with Farrow’s view on the effects of these possible cuts.
“The more we get cut, the less we’re able to take care of a veteran,” Rollins said.
Rollins said the Veterans Affairs office has positive economic benefits as well.
“We bring in more money than some of these car companies they kiss up to,” said Rollins.
‘Lost in the shuffle’
State veterans’ affairs employees help local veterans gain access to federal money, like the money provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These federal checks are then often spent in the local community. Rollins said Calhoun County’s Veterans Affairs office brings in anywhere from $25 million to $30 million per year in revenue.
“That money goes into this area,” Rollins said.
Rollins doesn’t think officials are purposefully hurting the veterans’ office, though.
“They just don’t understand how the process works,” he said.
Although Rollins said veterans deserve these types of benefits for their service, the revenue these programs bring in should also provide an incentive for representatives to support state funding.
“It gets lost in the shuffle sometime during the budget process,” Rollins said. “If you don’t want to recognize us for our service to our country, at least look at it from an economic perspective.”
Senate Bill 13, which Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, sponsored, allows Veterans Affairs to access federal money that would have previously been unavailable. This sort of federal funding, if available, would then be used to pay employees and keep offices across the state open, Dial said.
Whether options for federal funding exist, however, remains unclear.
Without SB13, Veterans Affairs will only have access to the General Fund. The bill passed the Alabama House Tuesday evening.
“We can’t cut veterans’ services when we have more and more veterans coming in,” Dial said.
‘It will be felt’
The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence will also see a decrease in state funding if the current budget passes.
“It will be considerably less than five to six years ago,” said Susan Shipman, executive director of 2nd Chance, a nonprofit that provides shelter and support services to victims of domestic violence in Calhoun County. “It will be felt.”
In 2012, the domestic violence coalition received $231,658, which was divided among 18 shelters across the state. Shipman said 2nd Shelter received about $12,000 of financing from the state General Fund, which helped to build the rest of the shelter’s $500,000 budget, thanks to grant-matched funding. This year, the coalition is proposed to receive $196,978.
Shipman said that further cuts to an already tightened budget would mean an incredibly limited emergency travel fund for victims looking to leave the state to find a safe place to stay with friends or family. New sheets, pillows and towels for the shelter would also be out of the question; there would be a greater reliance on community donations to 2nd Chance.
“We pay close attention to every dollar we spend,” Shipman said. “We’ve tightened our belts as much as we can tighten our belts.”
Dial recognizes the difficulty these agencies face. Although cuts to funding are not ideal, passing a balanced budget is mandatory for the Senate.
“Every program we’ve got is important,” Dial said. “Every one of them is critical, but unfortunately we’ve got limited dollars.”
The Department of Corrections could also face possible cuts. Last year, the department received $381 million, while this year it may only receive $367 million, a difference of nearly $14 million. To get even that, voters may have to approve a constitutional amendment in November to allow transfers of money from other state accounts.
“If they get cut, I don’t know what they’re going to do other than turn inmates out,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson.
And the results of turning inmates away could result in an uptick in local crime, the sheriff said.
“There’s a tremendous cost of crime that isn’t always obvious to calculate,” Amerson said. “The state tells you how expensive it is to house a prisoner, and they’re right — it costs a lot. But the cost of crime is also high.”
But Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston and the Senate’s president pro tem, says the cuts to the Department of Corrections are not as extreme as cuts that have been made elsewhere. Marsh said part of the budget decision was made specifically so that the facilities would not have to release prisoners.
“We had to protect some services there,” Marsh said.
Marsh said that until Alabama citizens are willing to accept a tax increase, little can be done to help ease budget pains.
“There’s not an outcry from the public for a tax increase,” Marsh said. “Until that happens, we have to live within our means and pass the best budget possible.”