Credit: Kenny Rivera

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | The prospects for an array of programs for Orange County’s poor and elderly took a severe hit last week as the California Legislature approved bills that largely adhere to a series of drastic cuts proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown to close the state’s $25 billion budget hole.

The county’s Children and Families Commission alone stands to lose $51 million in funding.

The commission, which provides medical and dental services for children from birth to age five, plans to sue the state to block the loss of funds.

Additionally, the incomes of roughly 24,000 families would drop below the national poverty level due to an across-the-board 13-percent cut to their payments through the CalWorks program, county officials said.

Other services, including day care for 11-and 12-year-olds, will be eliminated.

A spokesperson for the county’s Health Care Agency said it would be a week or two before it had a complete picture of what all of the cuts will mean.

In hopes of avoiding more cuts, Brown is asking the Legislature for permission to go to the voters in June for approval of an extension of temporary tax increases. However, he still needs four Republican votes and so far doesn’t have them.

If the Legislature doesn’t allow the June vote, or if voters reject the tax extension, more cuts will be needed, Brown has said.

Social services agencies throughout the county and state have been scrambling to save themselves since January, when Brown announced his proposed cuts.

Adult Day Health Care, managed to stay alive, by reaching its own compromise with lawmakers. Even so, it faces dramatic changes that will be worked out over the next few months. The program serves about 37,000 adults statewide, including an estimated 2,000 in Orange County at 20 centers.

The adult day care services was one of the few areas where the Legislature made changes Brown’s proposal to slash health and welfare programs.

To keep the services going, said Lydia Missaelides, executive director of the California Association of Adult Day Services, new rules are likely to limit the service to adults who have more serious health problems than many of those who use the centers today.

Set to Sue

Even before the bills were passed, the county’s Children and Families Commission had voted to sue if the state went ahead with plans to take $1 billion from the voter-approved program.

“Once it becomes law (with Brown’s signature),” said Executive Director Michael Ruane, “we’ve made it very clear we will oppose that (loss of funds) through legal action.”

To give the state the $51 million it’s seeking from Orange County beginning July 1, officials said they would have to cancel existing contracts with service providers. A bill approved by the Legislature directs counties to cancel contracts.

The county receives about $30 million a year to run the programs, known as First 5, not enough to keep all programs running if the additional $51 million the county had allocated is taken away.

Programs conducted by Children and Families Commission contractors include school nurses in every school district in the county, children’s dental programs, pre-natal care for low-income pregnant women, public health nurses, including the home visitation program for at-risk families.

“We don’t start things we can’t sustain,” said Ruane.

The money comes from Proposition 10, a voter-approved ballot program that allocates money throughout the state. Opponents of Brown’s plan to use $1 billion of the Prop 10 money held by counties argue it is illegal for the state to take money that voters have authorized.

In his plan to take the funds, Brown refers to the $1 billion as “reserves,” but Ruane said “the term ‘reserves’ is a pejorative term.

“It’s not reserves set aside for a rainy day,” he said. “It’s funding that has been allocated for a specific program, which is exactly how we should be doing things.”

Job Training Cuts

An estimated 24,000 families in Orange County will see their assistance drop and 5,000 will lose aid altogether through the CalWorks, the state’s welfare-to-work program, said Social Services Agency spokesperson Anne Broussard.

Under the current program, adults with minor children can remain in the CalWorks program for five years while they search for jobs. When adults are dropped, the children continue to receive assistance.

But Brown is recommending that adults and children stop receiving aid after four years, although families still might receive food stamps and MediCal, if they qualify.

In addition, for families still in CalWorks, after school childcare would be eliminated for 11-and- 12-year-olds under Brown’s plan. Overall grants to the remaining families would be cut by 13 percent which, said Broussard, would bring a family of four below the national poverty level of $22,350 a year.

Eliminating after school day care for 11 and 12-year-olds “puts these children at risk for gang involvement and other dangers,” said Broussard.

All told, she said 58,000 Orange County individuals — 11,000 adults and 47,000 children — are currently enrolled in the CalWorks program and will be affected by some or all of the cuts.

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