Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spending more money on prisons and less money on social services lacks forsight

Budget cuts hit state's most vulnerable
Beall, Jim. San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 11, 2008.

Every day, 73-year-old Ingeborg Dale swallows a variety of pills to ease the pain from her bouts with cancer, diabetes and a weakened heart. Dale's flagging health keeps her confined to her cramped apartment in Santa Clara.

Her lifeline to the world is an In-House Supportive Service care worker who is paid by the state to clean Dale's home, prepare her meals, run errands, bathe her and drive her to doctor's appointments. The care worker visits Dale five days a week - except for Saturdays and Sundays - for about 5 1/2 hours each visit.

When her IHSS worker leaves on Friday, a bleak thought crosses Dale's mind: "There goes my everything."

Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's draconian plan to solve California's $14.5 billion deficit, it will take longer for that IHSS worker to return to Dale's home. She is one of millions of Californians who will be drastically affected if the governor's across-the-board 10 percent budget cuts become reality. Essential safety net programs, such as IHSS, Medi-Cal and foster care, will be gutted.

Many of these programs have been under-funded for years while other departments' budgets have burgeoned. For example, general fund spending for prisons has risen by 74 percent in the past four years but social service programs have increased by less than 9 percent, failing to keep pace with growing caseloads and inflation.

Under the governor's scenario, the poor and disabled who receive assistance will be victimized several times by the cuts because they rely on more than one state program to improve their lives. Nearly $4 out of every $10 in cuts affect services and programs that help Californians with low incomes.

The governor offers few revenue-raising ideas to meet our growing state's critical needs, a point underscored by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

Sacramento must evaluate antiquated tax loopholes that cost California about $17 billion annually in lost revenue. More than $4 billion is lost in tax giveaways for commercial property owners, oil companies and corporations.

If we don't take a realistic look at raising revenues, we can expect more cuts to human services, leading to fewer random inspections of nursing homes or denial of dental care and eyeglasses to the poor. This is what the governor's plan proposes.

The cuts also would affect more than 391,000 IHSS recipients statewide - including about 13,700 in Santa Clara County - who receive non-medical domestic and related services that enable them to live in their own homes instead of a care facility. The state IHSS budget would be cut 18 percent, reducing care hours by an average of 6.6 hours a month per recipient.

These recipients, the elderly or disabled, will also be hit by cuts to other state programs that they use, such as Medi-Cal, said Mary Tinker, director of the local IHSS Public Authority. The result could force them to choose between spending their scarce dollars on food or medicine.

"In a state such as California," Tinker said, "it is inconceivable that we would treat any of our citizens with such disdain."

Just as inconceivable is the 10 percent cut aimed at foster care - a $141.7 million reduction, not counting another $53.4 million lost in federal funds. More than 78,000 children in California - about 2,000 of them in Santa Clara County - were living in foster care, according to Child Welfare Service reports in 2006. Reimbursement rates for foster care families have fallen behind the actual cost of living.

Last year, the budget included a 5 percent foster care rate boost, the first increase in six years. Now, Schwarzenegger would eliminate that 5 percent raise and take away another 5 percent. These cuts, which average about $50 a month, could be the last straw for families who have long spent their own cash to pay for transportation and food for their foster kids. And there is a larger price to pay for the governor's penny-wise approach: Research shows that inadequately supported foster care children are more likely to later enter the justice system than their non-foster care peers.

Cuts to programs that serve foster care kids and people like Ingeborg Dale are the product of political expediency. They are the easy targets in the budget because they have the least political power.

When she learned about the governor's proposal, Dale said, "I was enraged. He's forgotten what it means to be poor."

People like Dale should be angry. The question is: Shouldn't the rest of us be angry, too?

JIM BEALL JR., a Democrat, represents the 24th Assembly District in San Jose. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.


Post a Comment

<< Home