Now the crisis is reaching the children.
In Arizona, a program that helped blind high school students care for themselves and find jobs is suspended. In South Carolina, all five state-run group homes for kids closed and a program that helped paroled youths get jobs is shuttered. And in Hawaii, a program to reduce child abuse and neglect was cut so much that two years after serving 4,000 families, it now serves 100.
All over the country, the financial crisis has forced states to make historic cuts to close what the National Conference of State Legislatures found was an overall budget gap of $174.1 billion this fiscal year and has lawmakers looking to trim another $89 billion next year. That means slashing services to the one population they've long protected: children.
The scope of the cuts is unprecedented, child advocates say. Hit are programs that addressed everything from childhood obesity to child abuse, and from prenatal care to preschool inspections. Some can't serve as many kids, while others are forced to deal with months-long delays and many programs simply disappear.
"We were really taken aback at just the sheer magnitude of the cuts," said Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, which released a study in January that found programs for children were cut or eliminated in more than 40 states.
And now, advocates worry all the gains they've made in improving children's lives will be lost and juvenile crime, child abuse, child neglect and other problems will climb.
"We will end up with a kid who is killed or will kill someone else," said Karen McLeod, president of Children and Family Services Association-N.C., an organization in North Carolina, where the state's mental health system was cut by $155 million last year. "We are very, very worried about what is going to happen."