‘Grim’ budget strains California’s frayed safety net
Catholic leaders bemoan the deep cuts to the state’s social safety net in Gov. Jerry Brown’s May Revise proposed 2012-13 budget issued last week, containing additional reductions in health and welfare programs as well as furloughs for state workers to deal with a deficit that has ballooned to at least $15.7 billion.
In addition to the steep cuts in the governor’s $91.4-billion general fund spending plan, the budget proposal also relies on voters passing a tax initiative on the November ballot temporarily raising taxes on sales and wealthy individuals. If the tax measure fails, Gov. Brown has proposed that K-12 school districts cut three weeks of school over the next two school years.
Reductions to the safety net in the May Revise include cutting the time a person can stay in CalWORKs from 48 to 24 months unless work requirements are met, elimination of child care for 30,000 enrollees and reducing payments for Medi-Cal services --- $1.33 billion in additional cuts to such programs. Home care for the elderly and disabled will be reduced, with a proposed $225 million cut that would include 7 percent shaved from aides’ hours, the L.A. Times reported.
“It’s grim. There’s no good news,” said Carol Hogan, director for pastoral projects and communications at the bishops’ California Catholic Conference.
Adding to the bleak outlook, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said May 18 that their projections of anticipated state revenues and funds available from former redevelopment programs are less than Gov. Brown’s estimates, suggesting a deficit closer to $17 billion.
In a May 17 statement issued by the CCC on the state budget, “Balancing Subsidiarity and Solidarity,” California’s bishops pointed out that, while every state function has been hit in recent years, few programs have been reduced as hard and as consistently as those for people who need help the most.
“Six billion dollars has been taken from the safety net in the last five years,” said Ned Dolejsi, CCC’s executive director. He cites continued cuts to CalWORKs combined with new cuts to child care subsidies as a major concern.
In the proposed budget, child care has been greatly revamped, according to analysis from one of the CCC’s low-income advocate partners.
Instead of cutting 54,000 families off of child care, it will eliminate child care for nearly 30,000 families. But, to make up for the lost revenue, the governor proposes to cut the reimbursement rate for the child care voucher program by more than half, from the 85th percentile to the 40th percentile, cutting $184 million. There is no estimate of how many providers may leave the voucher program if the cuts are instituted or how CalWORKs families would find child care if these providers are not able to continue.
“Sixty-seven percent of people on CalWORKs are women with children,” said Dolejsi. “How are they supposed to get back to work when their child care is cut?”
CCC’s recent analysis of the state budget, posted at www.cacatholic.org (click on “Economic Justice”), points out that a common budget tactic is to reduce programs for those with “limited” constituencies. For instance, Gov. Brown has proposed cutting $10 million in funding for low-income students in private schools who are receiving nutritional assistance.
“These children need the aid just as much as those in public schools but no union, business group or other ‘power-broker’ will take up their plight. Few will even be aware of the situation,” said the bishops.
“We question the rationale for cuts in nutritional assistance for low income students in private schools, because it’s a subsidy to the child, not the school,” added Dolejsi.
In the archdiocese, approximately 9,000 low-income students in Catholic schools receive free or reduced-price lunches and 2,400 students participate in the breakfast program, largely subsidized by federal and state reimbursements.
Currently, the federal reimbursement to the archdiocese’s school food service program is $2.79 per free lunch meal ($2.39 reduced lunch) and the state reimbursement is 15.62 cents for free and reduced price meal programs vs. 21.95 cents provided to public school low-income students, according to Lilia Chavez, archdiocesan director of the school food service.
“On behalf of the 13,139 students in our 68 Catholic schools that participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, I hope that the governor will reconsider the proposal to eliminate the state reimbursement,” said Chavez. “As private schools, we already receive a state meal reimbursement which is 6.33 cents less than that provided to public schools.
“The plan to completely eliminate the state reimbursement only from private schools and allow the other schools to retain their full state meal reimbursement is unfair,” she declared. “It is more equitable to lower the state reimbursement across the board to all schools making the reduction in funding less severe.
“The complete elimination of the state reimbursement for private schools is a drastic reduction in funding for private schools. Why are the students attending private schools excluded from access to the state funds? The taxpaying sector is not limited to the families of students that attend public school --- it includes families of the children that attend private schools as well,” said Chavez.
“Catholic social teaching calls for a balance of the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity,” said the California bishops in their May 17 statement. “The call for shared sacrifice will make clear that we cannot pass our fiscal burdens on to the next generation through illusory budgetary gimmicks and more borrowing; we cannot shred the safety net for our poorest sisters and brothers and we cannot deprive our children of a quality education that prepares them for an ever more complex and competitive world.”
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.