Thursday, October 2, 2008

Aid programs see need rising as funds dry up

The state budget makes significant cuts in social services funding despite an unprecedented demand, as people lose their homes, health insurance and jobs and fall back on Contra Costa's safety net.

Case in point: Since 2006, the county's Employment and Human Services department has seen a 37 percent increase in the number of individuals applying for cash aid from CalWORKs, according to the department.

In Sacramento, Gov. Schwarzenegger cut 5 percent from the state welfare program, costing Contra Costa about $2 million.

"We were shocked," said Joe Valentine, Contra Costa's director of Employment and Human Services, who also lost $2.75 million in Medi-Cal staffing money. "It was more than we expected. We're just puzzled how the governor expects us to meet the needs of increased people coming to the office with decreased funding. I'm bewildered. ... They can make those decisions at the state level, but people are still going to be coming to our front door."

The governor signed the belated $103.4 billion budget Sept. 23. In addition to hurting social services, the budget also hurt health services and probation and redevelopment agencies.

The state reductions come after Contra Costa's Board of Supervisors cut nearly $52 million from the county budget in May. Next week, the supervisors are scheduled to cut another $6.6 million from the general fund's budget due to lower-than-anticipated property tax revenue. Lower-than-budgeted assessed Advertisementvalues also caused about a $5.6 million deficit in three special districts as well — Contra Costa Fire, East County Fire and the county library.

The cuts couldn't have come at a worse time as many Contra Costans, struggling with the weakening economy, find themselves needing to rely on the county's services.

"Since January, we've seen a significant increase in food stamps, financial assistance and Medi-Cal due to the economic downturn," Valentine said. "This reduces staffing at the point when the demand for services are greater. People will have to wait longer to get assistance."

The county's food stamp program will lose $600,000. The CalWORKs program — California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids — has about 9,500 cases, the most since caseload fell after welfare reform, the department said. Valentine expects the numbers to rise.

Adult protective services lost 10 percent, another area that has seen increased workloads due to an aging population and new laws requiring financial institutions to report fraud against senior citizen fraud.

It is unclear if these cuts will mean a loss of jobs — the department has kept many positions vacant — but there will be fewer employees per case, Valentine said.

Meanwhile, Medi-Cal health care facilities will get 10 percent less reimbursement for providing care. William Walker, the county's director of health services, said he worries the cuts may cause providers to stop accepting Medi-Cal patients at a time when requests for indigent and uninsured care have increased.

"We're always on the wrong end of the curve. We have more demands for fewer resources," Walker said.

Even with 430,000 outpatient visits a year, the county cannot meet its demand, he said. Only 40 percent of the county's more than 1,000 medical-care providers accept Medi-Cal patients.

The probation department saw a range of cuts, including the elimination of the $1.3 million for the mentally ill juvenile offenders program. Three probation officers, along with a team of mental health and other participants, worked with mentally ill juvenile offenders to get them treatment rather than incarceration.

About $520,000 was cut from the juvenile probation and camp funds, threatening the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility in Byron, which can keep up to 100 young offenders, said county probation officer Lionel Chatman.

"If we were to lose the boy's ranch I'm not sure what we'd do with these kids. The court would order us to place these kids, but if we had no local program ... We'd be caught between a rock and a hard place," he said.

The adult drug treatment program and juvenile justice prevention act funding were reduced by 10 percent. The latter places probation officers in 18 schools countywide.

"There is no sustainable funding for juvenile programs. They are always vulnerable to state budget cuts," Chatman said. "If you don't put money toward it you'll see more kids moving toward crime."

With the county supervisors preparing their own county cuts this week, outgoing county administrator John Cullen asked department heads to reflect state changes in their budget recommendations.

"We, as a county, are not in any position to backfill behind the state budget cuts," Cullen said.

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  • Aid programs see need rising as funds dry up
  • Aid programs see need rising as funds dry up