A child in the Healthy Smiles program financed by Prop 10 money through the Children and Families Commission, gets a dental examination by Dr. Tara Van Houten. (Photo credit: Kathleen Freed)

Monday, March 7, 2011 | Orange County’s Children and Families Commission will postpone signing $8 million in contracts for public health services for very young children through the state’s First 5 program because Gov. Jerry Brown wants to take $1 billion of the program’s money and put it toward California’s massive budget deficit.

First 5 was established in 1998 when voters approved Proposition 10, which calls for tobacco tax revenue to be funneled to counties for school nurses, children’s dental programs and other services for needy children from birth through age five and some pregnant women.

In 2008-2009, more than $57 million was allocated to programs that served more than 205,000 Orange County children, according to the Commission’s web site.

But Commission Chairman Bill Campbell said the Commission meeting last week that it should hold off signing contracts with dental and other groups that provide the services because the money may not be there to pay for the work.

“If Sacramento strips Orange County’s vital health and safety net programs of Prop 10 funding, it will have direct, devastating, long-lasting impacts on thousands of the county’s most vulnerable children and their families,” Campbell, who also is chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said in a news release.

“Children only enter kindergarten once in their lifetimes,” added commission Executive Director Michael Ruane in an interview. “Children cannot learn when they are in pain from dental carries (cavities) and other health conditions or when they do not have anywhere safe to sleep at night.”

Commissioners agreed with Campbell, meaning no new contracts will be signed until the county knows how much money it will have for the services.

Orange County programs that receive financial support through Prop 10 money 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.

County officials said the programs cut costs related to foster care, special education and other services. The impact of cuts will be felt at the beginning of the new fiscal year, July 1, although many groups that provide the services are expected to begin planning for reduced financial support now.

Proposition 10

Initially, Brown proposed diverting the $1 billion in fiscal 2011-2012, plus taking about 50 percent of the program’s future tax income and using it for other state programs. He planned to ask voters to approve a ballot amendment to Proposition 10.

But an attempt in 2009 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to take about half of the currently proposed $1 billion was rejected by voters by a 2-1 margin statewide and by 74 percent of Orange County voters.

Now, Brown and other lawmakers believe they can take the $1 billion without voter approval and drop plans to take the other 50 percent. They’re relying on sections of Prop 10 which, they believe, allow them to take the $1 billion on a one-time basis.

A two-thirds vote of the Legislature would be required to take the money and the reasons for taking the money must “further the act” and be “consistent with its purposes,” according to the wording of Prop 10.

But Orange County officials strongly disagree with Brown’s plans.

“California voters approved Proposition 10 in 1998 for the express purpose of helping our children,” said Campbell’s statement. “… The latest State budget proposal puts at risk any voter-approved initiative.”

The overall state First 5 commission receives 20 percent of the Proposition 10 funds for statewide programs and public outreach. The remaining 80 percent of funds are allocated to commissions in each of California’s 58 counties according to their birth rate. Orange County’s birth rate is second only to Los Angeles’ statewide.

For example, said Ruane, in fiscal 2009-2010, the children’s dental program, called Healthy Smiles, provided more than 18,000 dental services to young children in the county.

During that same time frame, the public health nursing positions and other Prop 10 funded programs combined to provide 18,374 health related home visits. School nurses and other Prop 10 funded programs conducted 77, 959 comprehensive screenings.

And during fiscal 2009-2010, the program provided 161,366 shelter bed nights to homeless children and pregnant women. A “shelter bed night” is one person in one warm and safe bed for one night.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

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