Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled budget proposals Monday that were relatively mild compared to cuts suggested and enacted in recent years, buoyed by an unexpected windfall from the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.
But even as some advocates for the poor and disabled can breathe a sigh of relief, one group is drawing attention to the wave of impacts caused by billions in cuts in recent years.
The nonpartisan California Budget Project last week issued fact sheets on recent cuts to programs that give stipends to the poor and disabled, families going from welfare to work and a health insurance program for needy kids.
Jean Ross, executive director of the project, said the idea came from one result of a Field Poll question showing that about half the state’s residents felt no impact from California budget cuts.
"We were trying to document that there had been large cuts and large amounts of dollars lost," Ross said.
Her staff set out to examine how several programs were hit and how each county may have swaths of people struggling to cover costs.
Here are some of their findings:
Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment
The Supplemental Security Income program is meant to give cash assistance to seniors and the disabled to pay for basic expenses such as housing and food.
Budget Project staff say $4.6 billion has been cut [PDF] from the program since the 2008-09 budget year.
On an individual basis, that means about 1.3 million people who rely on the program will see $830 a month in July, compared to $907 per month in January 2009.
People eligible for that program are not eligible for CalFresh, or food stamps, the budget project reports, meaning they “will continue to face difficult choices about how to manage their reduced income, such as eating less and/or relying on food banks or other charities.”
Since 2008, the loss of funds means [PDF] $150 million fewer dollars in Fresno County and $299 million fewer dollars in San Diego County, the analysis shows.
While Healthy Families faces changes in Monday’s budget proposal [PDF], the Budget Project performed an unrelated analysis [PDF] of how budget cuts and changing dynamics in the state have hit the program that provides affordable health coverage to low-income kids.
The program is targeted at families not poor enough to qualify for Medi-Cal but who make less than 250 percent of the poverty level, which is $46,000 a year for a family of three. The program gives families access to low-cost insurance.
The budget project found that enrollment in the program fell by more than 50,000 kids since July 2009, when 922,000 kids were in the program.
The group attributes the change, in part, to family earnings falling and increasing Medi-Cal eligibility. But the project also pointed to a $144 million cut to the program that resulted in higher costs for families, an application fee for the program and increasing co-pays.
Enrollment fell in most counties [PDF], including by 8 percent, or 5,521 kids, in San Bernardino County and by 6 percent, or 14,600 kids, in Los Angeles County. Amador, Marin, Napa and Nevada counties bucked the trend, adding a small number of kids to the program.
CalWorks is the name of California’s welfare-to-work program, a model put in place in the late '90s to replace welfare and transition parents to full-time jobs.
The budget project estimates [PDF] the program stands to absorb $3.5 billion in cuts as a result of the state budget shortfalls.
The group estimates the cuts represent $3,100 fewer dollars spent on each of the 1.1 million kids who are three-fourths of the program’s beneficiaries.
For recipients that has meant a 12 percent drop in cash assistance and a cut in the number of months that families are eligible for help in the program, from 60 months to 48.
The state also changed eligibility rules so families will have to earn less to qualify for payments. Three years ago, families could get stipends if they made up to $1,651 each month for a family of three in a high-cost area. Now families can earn a maximum of $1,369 per month.
The state has also shaved tens of millions from funds aimed at helping families gain employment and pay for childcare.
The budget project estimates the changes [PDF] resulted in $61.8 million less spent in Contra Costa County and $91.7 million less in Santa Clara County.