Budget deal looks painful for Calif.

July 21, 2009 8:03:25 PM PDT
For the state budget deal, new details are emerging about what it really means for California. It looks painful with deep cuts and tricky accounting that may leave us in a similar mess next year. The agreement the governor reached with the state's top four lawmakers includes $15 billion in spending cuts and $11 billion in borrowing to try to close the gap. California is on the verge of transforming how it helps its most vulnerable citizens: the poor, the disabled and the elderly. Their safety net will be severely scaled back.

"The Legislative leaders said that they saved the safety, but the actual details suggest the safety net has been shredded," says Anthony Wright, from Health Access.

Low income children will be among the hardest hit. Welfare To Work moms who keep failing to fulfill job requirements, for instance, used to be able to get cash assistance for just their kids. However, with the proposed cut to CalWorks slated to be over half a billion dollars, the state would completely cut the family off.

"It just seems unconscionable that you could do this at a time with such record high unemployment. How are people supposed to find work? Why should we want to punish them now at a time like this?" says Mike Herald with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

Healthy Families also wouldn't be able to insure as many low income kids. While the cut is $124 million, the state loses twice that in federal funding. Child welfare groups estimate about half million kids would be denied health coverage and another 400,000 would be kicked off the program over the next year. Taxpayer groups say the cuts are necessary because California has been far too generous.

"We've had the best welfare programs in America. That's no longer sustainable and I think what we're going to see is a delivery of social services more aligned with the average of other states," says Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Democrats are taking a lot of heat for cutting programs they were elected to protect. Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, acknowledged the cuts are painful for him, but given the financial crisis, he's proud of the fact he save them from complete elimination.

"We did make some cuts, but they weren't nearly as bad as they could have been," says Steinberg."I have the old 'Can I sleep with myself?' test at night?and I can sleep with what I did."

The vote is scheduled for Thursday. Rank and file Democrats have two days to decide if they have the stomach to change California's safety net.

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