County leaders detail impacts of state cuts to health and welfare programs

County leaders detail impacts of state cuts to health and welfare programs

Michele Ellson

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan is casting a spotlight on cuts that state lawmakers want to make to health care and social services for the county’s poor, sick, young and old. Chan held a hearing at Alameda’s Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday night intended to detail the human impact of the cuts – and to ask participants to pressure lawmakers to reconsider them.

“We live next to these folks that are impacted. We go to church with these people. We see our kids go to school with them,” said Chan, a former state lawmaker herself. “I think if people are aware of this, we can get a lot more help from people who are really devastated and really suffering right now.”

Governor Jerry Brown has proposed an array of fresh cuts to health and welfare programs that are largely administered by Alameda County, though it was unclear what impact the cuts would have on the county’s budget overall. Alameda County’s budget is about $2.5 billion, and the county faced a $138 million budget shortfall when they were creating it, senior budget analyst Kai Mander said.

About half of the county’s budget pays for health care and social services, and the amount of state and federal money the county gets to provide those services is shrinking as the need for them grows due to the poor economy, county officials said. Some 11.4 percent of the county’s 1.5 million residents – and 14.5 percent of its children – live in poverty, Mander said.

People receiving Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor, no longer receive dental, optometry or podiatry services, Health Care Services Agency director Alex Briscoe said. Briscoe said Brown has proposed also eliminating eligibility for adult day health care services, which would render 245 of the 881 largely sick and elderly Alameda County residents who receive it ineligible for the service.

Adults receiving CalWORKS assistance would only be able to receive welfare grants for 24 months, instead of the 48 months they can qualify for them now, and the amount of the grants would receive its third cut since 2009 under Brown’s proposed budget. Alameda County Social Services Agency director Lori Jones said that a single mother with two children now receives a grant of $638 per month and that if she doesn’t perform 30 hours of unpaid work or more per week, the grant would drop to $392 a month – a number that elicited gasps from the audience.

Brown’s initial budget plan for next year would also cut child care funding by more than a half billion dollars, eliminating a third of Alameda County’s subsidized child care slots and reducing payments to childcare providers, Angie Garling of the county’s General Services Agency said. Payments to Woodstock Child Development Center, which the school board considered closing last year, would drop by 10 percent, she said.

“It’s already less per child per day than most doggie day cares get per dog per day,” Garling said.

Marva Lyons, who runs a home day care for six children here in Alameda, said families could lose everything if their childcare subsidies aren’t maintained.

“These parents have got off of welfare thinking that they had a golden opportunity to get a job, and don’t worry about childcare. But they were wrong,” Lyons said. “We have to make a stand. We will not take more cuts.”

County officials called the proposed cuts pennywise and pound foolish, saying that they would ultimately boost an already growing need for services and drive those who lose the services into more expensive levels of care. Those losing in-home supportive services hours could be forced into pricier institutional care, and if their caregivers’ hours are cut, they could lose their health insurance, county officials said.

One nonprofit service provider who presented at the hearing Wednesday questioned the values of lawmakers who back health and welfare cuts.

“We bandy around a lot of terms, and that always makes it a lot easier than dealing with people,” said Doug Biggs, executive director of the Alameda Point Collaborative, which provides housing and services to 500 formerly homeless people. “Budgets aren’t about numbers. Budgets are about values and choices.”

The county’s Sacramento lobbyist said Brown doesn’t want to make the cuts detailed in his January budget plan, but must consider them because the state has fallen on hard times. The lobbyist, Darius Anderson of Platinum Advisors, called on participants in Wednesday’s meeting to contact lawmakers to advocate for the programs – and to get Brown’s proposed tax initiative passed to pay for them.

The news wasn’t all bad: Briscoe said that thousands more county residents will have health insurance in 2014 under President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, and he said the county is committed to making sure they’re enrolled and that care providers are in place to see them. And he said the county has leveraged state and federal money to increase childrens’ access to mental health services, though he said access to that money is being curtailed.

“We have one of the strongest safety net systems, and it is still inadequate to the challenges we face,” Briscoe said.

Chan is holding another hearing on the budget on April 26 in the Board of Supervisors’ chambers in Oakland.