Scope of Budget Cuts Could Have Major Impact on Poor Families
Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed deep cuts to several health and welfare programs to help balance the state’s budget. That would be a double or triple whammy for some California families who rely on multiple services. Health care reporter Kelley Weiss visited one of those families to find out how the combination of cuts could affect them.
Gina Jackson’s a single-mom with four kids. Two of them are in college but two are still at home. Sammy, who’s 6 and Jasmine, 11. Jackson is rummaging through the fridge in her San Jose area home.
“What do you guys want for dinner?” “What did we have for last night?” asks one of her children.
“We’re having leftovers,” Jackson replies.
She buys her groceries with food stamps. She needed them after she lost her job as an administrative assistant in September. Jackson says she gets help from several other state programs too. She gets child care through the state’s welfare-to-work program called CalWORKS.
She and her kids get health care coverage through Medi-Cal. And, her older children get money for college through the state’s CalGRANTS program. And her mom whose wheelchair bound as a result of polio gets a disability check and in-home care. But Jackson says despite all of this help, she’s barely making it.
“You beg, you borrow, you ask friends, you go to food banks, it’s really humiliating, it’s really degrading, it’s very painful,” says Jackson.
Jackson says she’d been living on $700 a month until she got her unemployment benefits in May. Her rent alone is $1,200.
Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget would hit nearly every program Jackson’s family depends on. He’s recommending the total elimination of CalWORKS and CalGRANTS. As well as deep cuts to in-home care services and less cash assistance for the disabled.
Schwarzenegger’s plan also includes paperwork changes to Medi-Cal that could push thousands of kids off the state’s health insurance program. Jackson says this is overwhelming.
“I have been up nights thinking about that, it has interfered with my sleep, and it’s a basically an overwhelming chess game that you’re playing in your mind to set up the strategy to make it if one part of the puzzle doesn’t come through,” she says.
And that’s a common problem says legislative advocate Mike Herald. He’s with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Herald says when all these cuts hit at once…
“Under the governor’s proposal, no more education and training, no more moving families out of poverty, and absolutely no grant assistance for families, meaning that we’re going to see thousands of families move into homelessness,” he says.
According to the California Health and Human Services Agency more than one million people are enrolled in CalWORKS making them eligible for Medi-Cal and food stamps. And most of the roughly half a million people who get in-home care, also get cash assistance for a disability.
Page: “There are really just not good choices.”
That’s Lisa Page, a spokeswoman for Governor Schwarzenegger. She says in the last year the state’s tax revenues plummeted by 30 percent. So she says the governor had to make choices that were unthinkable just months ago.
“The governor understands the real human consequences of those cuts and does not want to have to make them,” says Page, “but when you’re faced with the worst economic recession, really since the Great Depression, we really had to cut back spending.”
Legislators are now trying to figure out how to close the state’s $24 billion budget gap. Both parties agree with the governor that cuts are needed. However Democrats who control the legislature say they will not eliminate key programs like CalWORKS.
But Gina Jackson says she’s wondering what’s going through the minds of lawmakers and the governor.
“Who are they thinking of? I hope my face pops out and my children, their needs, you know, think of Gina, think of Sammy, think of Jasmine, think of Shaughn and Erica, what are they going to do?”
Meantime Jackson says she’s not giving up. She’s been testifying before lawmakers about the impact of the proposed cuts. And she’ll keep doing it. In fact she plans to make a career out of it -- she wants to go back to school to become an advocate.