Budget Countdown: Three, Two, One, Impact (On California's Most Vulnerable)

Posted on 25 April 2012

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By Wilma Chan
Alameda County Supervisor, Third District

Imagine that you are a single mother with two children and the Governor has issued you a budget challenge: live off of $392 each month. Imagine paying for food, housing, and daily living expenses. Imagine paying for child care. Imagine paying for transportation to attend mandatory job training. Imagine balancing all these responsibilities while trying to get back to work in a tough economy. Could you do it?

In Alameda County, there are 2,500 single mothers receiving aid and employment training through CalWORKs who will be forced to take this challenge on July 1st. The cut to CalWORKs and its impact on low-income families is one of many challenges that the Governor has issued to California’s most vulnerable populations through his recent budget proposal. Sacramento may see the California budget as a series of columns and numbers to balance, but here in Alameda County we see how those numbers translate in real time and into real consequences for numerous children, parents, and seniors.

We have an obligation to tell our residents’ stories to Sacramento before they are written for us. Year after year, Alameda County has seen services slashed by budget cuts bestowed on us by the state. However, we have seen that community action can reverse harmful budget action. In 2011, the Governor proposed eliminating Adult Day Health Care, which would have stripped support away for 900 Alameda County seniors as well as their families to receive help with some of the most essential human needs including eating, walking, and companionship. Our county and statewide advocates successfully rallied against the cuts to Adult Day Health Care and succeeded in forcing the Governor to reconsider his budget proposal to totally discontinue these vital senior services. We can make an impact.

Recently, I launched the “Human Impact Budget”, a new effort in Alameda County supported by the Board of Supervisors. The process involves county departments translating how future state budget cuts will affect our residents and sharing this information through town hall style hearings in the community. We must collect and share these powerful local stories if we want to gauge the true costs of Sacramento’s budget cuts to those most at-risk in California.

We have already hosted the first of a series of “Human Impact Budget” hearings, engaged local community members and media, and generated poignant testimony. For example, nearly 3,500 children or one third of all subsidized child care slots in Alameda County will be eliminated this year under the Governor’s budget proposal.  For providers like Marva Lyons, a City of Alameda resident who has provided child care for parents on welfare for over 30 years and accepts state-subsidized vouchers, a 50 percent reduction rate of the private market back from 2009 would really hurt.

“Cuts hurt. Cuts make us cry. Cuts cut through our heart, through our mind…Our Governor just don’t understand. We have to make him understand. We have to make an impact.”

It is imperative that we continue to examine the potential outcomes of the state budget on our local community through new county reports and public testimony. Please join me, Alameda County Board President Nate Miley and Supervisor Keith Carson for the next hearing on Thursday, April 26th from 6:30-8:30 pm at the County Administration Building in Oakland to explore how we can make an impact now.  


Supervisor Wilma Chan is Alameda County Supervisor for the Third District and former Majority Leader of the Assembly and Chair of the Committee on Health of the California Assembly.

Unfortunately the way CalWORKs (California's Welfare System) is currently designed, it does not hold counties accountable for clients improving their lives and moving toward employment.
For those clients who are meeting the hours that are required there is no expectation that they will find an actual paying job. Because jobs are not rewarded by CalWORKs while "Participation" by way of the Work Participation Rate (WPR) is rewarded, jobs tend to take a back seat to "Participation."

In many counties, the CalWORKs programs operate like the old AFDC entitlement programs. Those that do the Welfare to Work portion lack the employment and training expertise needed to help clients find and keep jobs.

These cuts will not help this. They should revamp CalWORKs to focus not on cash aid but rather on employment and training. This will allow more clients to find work and get off aid. This would save millions in the long run.

Yes, we have to help the poor, but the way it's done now, there is much waste.Many people, who really don't qualify for food stamps, welfare, subsidized housing, Mei-Cal etc. hide their money in foreign countries.

Social workers want to beef up their case loads; so they easily qualify people.One case--which I'm sure is typical;--a person makes $ 800 a month from SS; so he's officially poor. He gets subsidized housing (rent $210 per month); all health care via Medi-Cal; food stamps etc. So he saves about $500 per month and each year goes to a foeign country where he has built a house and stays there for three or four months. The manager of his subsidized apartment doesn't care, because he leaves the four months' rent ahead of time. There are many others like this. On the other hand, the woman making only $392 a month, probably needs more help.

The board of supervsors could lower the salaries of many of their employees (those making over county median which is about $55,000) and stop overly-generous retiremenmt benefits,and there would be millions freed up to help the real popor.