At the Montana Legislature's House Appropriations budget hearing on Wednesday morning, Director of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Sheila Hogan, had harsh words for what she termed drastic budget cuts to her department.

"I have to be frank with you," Hogan began. "I am deeply concerned by this budget. The budget will dramatically impair the services we provide to seniors and those with disabilities in Montana. The budget voted out of the committee includes a cut of $60 million for seniors and physically disabled, and a $14 million cut for those with developmental disabilities."

Responding to Hogan's claims of drastic budget cuts to her department, chair Nancy Ballance, (R) Hamilton, disputed those claims.

"I wanted to make it clear that what she termed as cuts in most cases were not cuts at all, but were simply not as much as the governor had asked for," Ballance said. "They are increases over last session, they are increases over what was actually spent and what was appropriated. In most cases, we tried like crazy to make sure that we were not impacting people in the services that they receive and so desperately need."

Ballance said the DPHHS has the ability to spend its budget as it sees fit, distributing funds where they are most needed.

"They can transfer money around within the agency to meet whatever need they see," she said. "So, with 3,000 people and a two and a half billion dollars a year, they can move that money around to where it's needed."

The exchange was just one example of how difficult it is going to be to balance the state budget, which is constitutionally mandated, and still have a healthy surplus left over at the end of the session.

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