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County considers budget cuts

The Monterey County Herald, January 31, 2008

Social services could be hardest hit
Monterey County's supervisors will spend the coming weeks trying to find their way out of potential reductions of up to $25 million to the county budget. On Wednesday, county officials reviewed a stark report from county administrators that forecast millions of dollars in local funding that will be lost if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts are eventually approved. The governor proposed the cuts earlier this month as part of an attempt to close a projected $14 billion deficit. According to the report, social services programs serving the poor, elderly and disabled would be hardest hit by the governor's proposed cutbacks.

Though DeWayne Woods, Monterey County's budget manager, suggested that the report is "very preliminary" and county administrators expect many changes to the proposed budget after the state legislature weighs in next month, assistant county administrative officer Rosie Pando announced that the supervisors would hold a special meeting Feb. 22 to begin planning for anticipated cuts. Pando said Assemblyman John Laird may attend the meeting to offer guidance on the state budget situation.

Laird and the rest of the state legislators have until Feb. 24 — 45 days after the governor declared a fiscal state of emergency — to respond with a plan of their own. While Schwarzenegger and state Republican leaders have vowed to oppose tax increases to offset the budget shortfall, state Democratic legislators are expected to push for additional revenues. Supervisor Lou Calcagno, a member of the county budget committee, said the governor told him recently the budget shortfall may be smaller by next year if state leaders begin the belt-tightening immediately. Reliance on bonds: But Woods said the governor's proposal relies on issuing $3.3 billion in bonds to cover any shortfalls this year. The bonds would represent the remainder of the $15 billion in bonds authorized by voters in 2004 to cover the state's previous budget deficit. Harry Weis, Natividad Medical Center's interim chief financial officer, said state officials appear "intent" on delaying some payments to local governments in an effort to cover any cash shortfall. Woods said county officials must begin watching their spending patterns, noting that spending is moving at a clip 4 percent faster than last year. With tough fiscal times approaching, and revenue already lagging behind expenditures as the economy drags, it's time to stretch available dollars, Woods said. "We are at a point where we need to change our psychology with spending, or within three years we could see the same problems the state has now," he said.

Cutbacks: Under Schwarzenegger's proposed budget, county social services would be forced to absorb funding cutbacks in several key areas, according to the county's projections. Those would include: A loss of CalWORKs cash aid to more than 800 children from some of the area's most vulnerable families, including many low-income, seasonal workers who have had to rely on assistance for at least five years.

Under the law, children from so-called "safety-net" families — those who are no longer eligible for aid after five years of assistance — can continue receiving benefits. Citizen children whose parents are in this country illegally or are drug felons, and thus can't qualify for benefits, are allowed to receive aid. Under the governor's plan, safety-net children would only qualify for additional aid if their parents meet federal work requirements, and children whose parents are in this county illegally or are drug felons would be cut off after 60 months of aid.

About 330 local children in about 140 safety-net families would lose about $260 per month, and about 500 local children in about 210 families that include ineligible parents would lose about $225 per month. Foster care, adoption assistance and child welfare funding cutbacks totaling about $2.36 million. A $10.2 million funding loss for in-home support services for the elderly and disabled who are trying to remain in their homes. Loss of up to 36 and half social services employees.

Social services face cutbacks $485 Would be cut per month from CalWORKs aid for children $2.36M Would be cut from foster care, adoption assistance, child welfare $10.2M Would be cut from in-home support services.

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