Thursday, January 10, 2008

Governor Proposes Deep Reductions in State Programs

On Thursday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed his budget proposal for the 2008-09 fiscal year. Facing an estimated $14.5 billion dollar shortfall in revenues, the Governor asked nearly every department in the state government to reduce spending by 10%. For California’s immigrants, as well as many low-income residents who rely on the state’s various health and human services programs, the ten percent cut comes after years of reduced funding levels, rate freezes and suspended cost of living increases.

Many of the reductions contained in the Governor’s plan have been proposed in the past. The budget he released this week will serve as the starting point for negotiations with legislators who will, in the coming months, make their own proposals and hold public hearings on the state’s final budget plan.

The following is a summary of proposed cuts to some of the programs that directly serve immigrants. A more comprehensive analysis of the Governor’s budget proposal and its overall impact on immigrant communities will be available from CIPC in the coming days.

California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)
CalWORKs is a vital program that provides cash assistance to some of our state’s neediest families. When families time out after 60 months on assistance, the State continues to provide a child only safety net benefit. Last year the governor proposed the following policy changes:
• Full family sanctions for the CalWORKs program
• Full family sanctions for child only cases who have used up their 60 month time clock
• A 60 month time limit on child only cases of ineligible parents (mostly immigrants)
These proposals were rejected by the Legislature. This budget re-introduces the same full family sanctions proposals. The full family sanction would be imposed gradually on families if the parents fail to respond to attempts to bring them into compliance with CalWORKs work requirements. In total, the proposed budget reduces CalWORKs by $389 million.

California Food Assistance Program (CFAP)
CFAP provides benefits to low-income non-citizens who have resided in the U.S. for less than five years. The program serves 23,400 people and 23 percent of the caseload is comprised of families.

The budget proposes to cut CFAP by 10 percent. Given that the program is solely state-funded, the budget proposal moves beyond an administrative reduction to an actual reduction in the assistance immigrants and families receive. The governor proposes to reduce the monthly benefit level from $91 to $82, effective June 1 of this year. Since the date of implementation is set a month prior to the start of the budget year, the program will be reduced by $200,000 General Fund dollars in the current 2007-08 fiscal year. In the coming 2008-09 budget year, the program will be reduced by $2.5 million General Fund dollars. This proposal cannot be enacted without regulatory or statutory change, which means that the Legislature must approve the reduction.

Food Stamps Program (FSP)
California operates the country’s largest nutrition program for low-income households. FSP issues electronic debit cards to low-income Californians which they can use to buy food.
The governor proposes to cut FSP by 4 percent. The administration estimates this will result in $14.4 million in savings to the State. Alongside a $20.5 million reduction passed on by the federal government, the program will experience a 10 percent reduction in sum.
The budget proposal does not reduce benefits to recipients; instead, the budget limits the reductions to administrative costs. The administration proposes extending the federal waiver to substitute face-to-face interviews with phone interviews. The administration also proposes increasing the wait time for applicant households eligible for Expedited Service from 3 to 7 days; however, this proposal must be enacted by the State Legislature. Overall, recipients will likely experience a decline in the quality of customer service and a delay in receiving assistance. Furthermore, since counties are being asked to perform the same duties with fewer resources, outreach and enrollment efforts will likely be negatively impacted.

Naturalization Services Program (NSP)
The Naturalization Services Program is a vital tool for encouraging our state’s foreign-born population to naturalize. NSP provides grants to 32 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that provide naturalization services, including citizenship application assistance and citizenship testing and interview preparations, to 11,330 residents. When it was fully funded, NSP had a budget of $7 million annually. In recent years, the administration has maintained the program at $3 million per budget year. This has translated into long waiting lists at CBOs where immigrants seeking to naturalize are unable to receive the assistance they need, as the backlog of immigrants waiting for their citizenship continues to grow.

For the budget year, the governor proposes to reduce NSP by $300,000, bringing total NSP expenditures to a mere $2.7 million. This cut includes both a $15,000 reduction in administrative costs, as well as a $285,000 reduction in grants provided to CBOs. The administration expects the effect of this to translate a 1,130 people who will not receive naturalization services and will likely remain on the wait list and further lengthen the backlog.

The Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act
The State Legislature approved and enacted the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act in 1973. It is widely seen as the benchmark for language access here in California and serves as a standard nationwide. Under the Act, all state and local agencies employ an appropriate number of bilingual employees to provide an equitable level of service to their clients with Limited English Proficiency as well as provide interpreters or written translations to assist clients in understanding English forms, notices and documents. The Bilingual Services Program conducts a biennial survey assessing the needs of various agencies and then provides technical assistance and training to state agencies providing guidance in how to stay in compliance with the Act.
The governor proposes to cut one analyst position and $80,000 from monies used to contact state agencies. In sum, this budget reduces expenditures in the Bilingual Services Program by $166,000. This will result in delays in conducting the biennial survey and reduce the program’s ability to provide guidance to agencies.

Across the Board: are 10 percent cuts fair and balanced?

Yesterday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed his budget proposal for the 2008-09 fiscal year. For months advocates have braced themselves for what the administration has repeatedly warned would be a “difficult” budget in the face of a $14.5 billion shortfall. The governor’s budget proposes to spread the pain as it were by asking nearly every agency to take a 10% reduction in revenue. This means that groups that are usually considered more or less "off limits" when it comes to reaching for the axe (ie the Department of Education or the Department of Corrections) are suddenly taking hits. But for the Health and Human Services Agency, the 10 percent comes on top of years of reduced spending, rate freezes and suspended COLAs. When taking years of budget cuts into account, in real terms we are being asked to give a lot more than 10 percent.

Misery loves company, or so they say, butthere is a big down side to seeing our friends in education and other important areas sitting on the chopping block alongside us; this means an even larger group of advocates will be walking the halls of the Capitol, turning to legislators to stave off cuts. One can't help but wonder whether we will all wind up drowning one another out.

On the positive side, many of the proposals the governor is making focus on reducing overhead or quality of services rather than kicking people out of programs or changing enrollment standards. While the typical knee-jerk reaction during hard budget times is to start kicking people out or closing the doors by capping enrollment, the administration is in many instances reducing the quality of the program for everyone rather than reducing the number of people who benefit. Of course, in other instances there are some questions about consistency and how programs are being impacted. For instance, the Food Stamps Program gets a 10 percent cut which will be taken from administrative and operational costs without reducing the benefit to recipients. The California Food Assistance Program on the other hand, which serves the state's immigrants, gets a 10 percent cut that is taken straight from the dollar amount that families receive. If a 10 percent is just a 10 percent cut, why do some families experience delays in quality (longer wait times and poor customer service) while other groups (our state's newly arrived legal immigrants) experience an actual reduction in aid?