More on the Governor's January Budget: Women and Children First (Under The Bus)
By Sheila Kuehl
In my last essay, I compared the poor families in California to an array of long-suffering silent movie heroines who were threatened by heartless landlords or mustachioed villains and inevitably rescued in the nick of time by the super hero of the day (much like the spate of films we're all shelling out big bucks to see). Unfortunately, there is no end of the reel rescue for the millions of kids and families further abandoned by this year's budget.
In a state where the rate of children living in poverty increased by more than 5% between 2009-10 and just continues to grow, where the numbers of single mothers with jobs fell by more than 10% between 2007 and 2010 and is now much worse, we, nevertheless, seem to return again and again to slashing the social services area of the budget in order to balance it.
This is true despite the fact that health and human services does not comprise the largest part of the state budget, though it does weigh in at a hefty 29%. The largest sector is K-12 education, which takes slightly more than 40%. However, with a tax increase proposal on the November ballot, the Governor saw that he had to find a way to convince an electorate wary and suspicious of Sacramento's spending decisions, to tax themselves even more. Believing that the electorate would vote to fund education over social services, he chose to pretty much leave K-12 education alone in his initial budget proposal, keeping it as a public hostage doomed to suffer should the tax proposal fail. The cuts to Health and Human Services, however, will remain a part of the budget even if the tax measure passes.
Restructuring, Dismemberment, and Managed (lack of) Care
Three major areas took more than 50% of the hits in the January Budget proposal (as usual), a total of 2.039 billion dollars: CalWorks, which is California's welfare-to-work program was "restructured" as shown below, and lost 946.2 million dollars; child care programs, including those provided through CalWorks and through the California Department of Education (sometimes singled out as Early Childhood Development) was further reduced by 516.8 million dollars, a loss of at least 62,000 child care slots; and MediCal, which is California's version of the federal Medicaid program, was reduced by 842.3 million dollars. In addition, In Home Supportive Services for seniors and people with disabilities was reduced by 163.8 million and other programs in health lost 86.9 million.
Tis But A Flesh Wound: CalWorks
How does an eviscerated budget look? It looks like a body with no arms or legs. Kind of like what happened in the fight between King Arthur and the Black Knight in the much praised film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
King Arthur is trying to cross a bridge barred by the Black Knight. In the ensuing one-on-one battle, Arthur chops off the Knight's left arm. "Tis but a scratch," says the Knight, continuing to attack the King. Arthur, somewhat reluctantly, chops off the Knight's right arm. "Just a flesh wound," says the Knight who, denied his sword, begins to kick at the king. Arthur lops on one leg and then the other. Still, the Knight offers battle, yelling, "Come back here you coward and I'll bite your legs off". It's hilarious on the screen, but not so fun in real life.
The reason it's not at all funny is that the power wielding the sword is also the party "courageously" downplaying the damage. Nevertheless, the damage is devastating.
In the January budget proposal, 260,000 families with adults not eligible for cash assistance, and payments made for support of the children in the family only, are scheduled for transfer, in October of this year, to a new program, dubbed the Child Maintenance Program (CMP). Under CMP, total payments to the families would be much reduced. For example, a family containing one adult and two children, living in a "high cost" county (there is a sliding scale) would drop to a total benefit of $375 a month, less than one quarter of the federal poverty line.
In addition, although California historically has allowed a wider variety of work-preparing activities to count as work for CalWorks eligibility, the January budget proposal reverts to a CalWorks "basic" program for families who don't meet federal work requirements through employment that is unsubsidized. Adults not working sufficient hours after 24 months on aid lose eligibility and their family is transferred to CMP. This transfer would be applied retroactively resulting in over 100,000 families being shifted to CMP by April of 2013.
Tis But A Scratch: Child Care
To lop off a few more limbs from the total population receiving child care, the Governor's budget proposed reducing the income eligibility limit for families receiving state funded child care from 70% of the state's median income to 200% of the federal poverty line.
For the family of three considered above, this means that, where they had been allowed to earn $42,216 and still qualify for subsidized child care, they now could earn no more than 37,060. Bingo! Now we don't need those slots we eliminated because suddenly thousands of families (who currently have their children in your programs) no longer qualify! The savings from this proposal was guesstimated at about 43.9 million in non-prop 98 funds and 24.1 million in Prop 98 General Fund monies, eliminating about 15,700 slots.
In addition, the budget proposed requiring families to meet federal welfare-to-work requirements instead of the slightly looser state requirements that include studying to gain skills to get and keep a job. The savings "scored" for this proposal was 293.6 million and the elimination of 46,300 slots.
Finally, the budget proposed eliminating a statutory cost of living increase for non-CalWorks child care programs, as well as a reduction in the reimbursement rates for voucher-based programs.
Come Back Here and I'll Bite Your Legs: MediCal
The most sweeping proposals were those addressing MediCal.
First, all children currently receiving health care through California's Healthy Families program were to be shifted into MediCal and managed care, effective in October of this year. This allowed the budget to "score" a huge savings by reducing the total of rates paid under the program by over 25% to reflect the lower rates being paid in the MediCal managed care program.
In addition, the budget proposed that recipients who are "dual eligibles," that is, eligible for both Medicare and MediCal, receive their health care and some home and community-based social services through managed care systems in MediCal at a targeted savings of 621.8 million.
Next: The January Budget Proposals for Education
This is the second in a series of essays exploring California's 2012-13 budget. The first essay set out the full parameters of the proposed budget sent by the Governor to the legislature in January of this year. This essay was republished with permission. Author Sheila Kuehl served for eight years in the State Senate and six years in the State Assembly. Senator Kuehl served as chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee from 2000-2006. Her website is www.sheilakuehl.org.