Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

We wonder sometimes whether the administrators of certain state agencies ever mastered basic math.

It's not that we don't sympathize with the calculations state officials have been making.

Earlier this year Gov. Ted Kulongoski, reacting to the estimate that

the state was $577 million short for the two-year budget cycle that

ends next June 30, ordered agencies to propose ways to trim 9 percent

from their spending plans.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) tallied $158 million in cuts.

Considering that that department serves some of Oregon's more vulnerable citizens, we understood that that $158 million figure inevitably represents potential harm to real people.

Still and all, we were stunned to learn that one of the DHS' proposed cuts would not only fail to save taxpayers a dime, but it could in fact end up costing them millions of dollars.

Worse still, the cut would force about 2,000 elderly Oregonians to move from the homes they have tried so hard to keep.

What DHS was proposing, in effect, was to cause considerable heartache, and to spend a lot more money to do so.

The target in this case is Oregon Project Independence. The program seems to us the antithesis of the sort of wasteful endeavor for which government is so often criticized.

Project Independence spends a relative pittance - about $3.8 million per year - to help 2,400 Oregonians stay in their homes despite their physical or mental infirmities.

The state pays caregivers $10.25 per hour to work as many as 25 hours per month in clients' homes. Caregivers handle basic necessities such as cooking and cleaning.

Of course most DHS clients could make a compelling case for why their particular program is vital.

But in monetary rather than moral terms, none compares with OPI.

If the state ends the program, some of its clients will be forced to move into assisting living. And that can cost the state thousands of dollars per month, compared with about $250 for OPI.

Fortunately legislators recognized that ending OPI isn't justifiable under any measure.

The unfortunate part is that they had to overrule the mistake at all.