Budget Cuts threaten Social Services
March April 2003
The national economic downturn, coupled with dwindling revenues, have led to California’s colossal budget shortfall. We may face no economic growth for years to come.
The $35 billion deficit equals one-third of the entire budget. Imagine if your paycheck shrinks by one-third. That is how bad the budget crisis is now. Republicans want to balance the budget through all cuts and no new revenues.
SEIU Local 535 members and our allies were able to save jobs and services last year because we worked very hard lobbying local and state officials. We sent members to Sacramento for 41 days to put a face on the effects of program cuts. This year’s budget problems are much worse.
Mental health worker Margaret Leong remembers the budget crisis in the early ‘90s when the Alameda County clinic she worked for was closed down, and she was transferred to another clinic. The number of workers at the Central and East Oakland clinics was cut by 50%. “For the workers, the concern is service burnout because when they lay off people, the folks that are left are going to absorb all the caseloads,” she states.
The Berkeley Health Department will be particularly hard hit. Some of their programs are entirely state funded and once their present grant runs out they may have to layoff workers. Berkeley mental health worker Leland Johnson expressed serious concern about the impact of Medi-Cal and SSI cuts on his clients who will not only be losing services but will have their incomes cut by 6% and receive no cost of living increases. “Most of my clients are on fixed incomes. They are just surviving. A little cutback may not be a big deal for a legislator, but it makes a difference to whether those folks will eat well during the month,” he states.
Under the proposed budget services to the developmentally disabiled will also take a big hit. SSI recipient Arlette Gonzalez is struggling to survive. She suffers from severe mental retardation and receives services from the ARC San Francisco, which allow her to live in the community. The governor’s proposal to cut $100 million to regional centers may force several people like Gonzalez into more expensive day-care programs. “How can a mother of three who works to support her children afford to pay for day-care for a daughter who needs constant supervision?” asked Manny Manriquez, a social worker who works with Arlette in the one-on-one program.
This crisis is so deep and so vast that it will affect all of our lives. This year, Local 535 members must double their lobbying effort and work shoulder to shoulder with our allies to protect reliable services and quality education for all Californians. "We have to be united and we need to make a change! They (legislators) have to know these kids exist!" said Arlette's mother.