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California Needy Brace For Budget Scalpel

Black Voice News.com, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: May 29, 2009

When Nicole Elliott expressed anger over the minefields lurking around her sons health insurance program her mother Gladys offered up some sage advice: Be thankful, it could be worse she said.

These days Nicole and her husband Terney are among the thousands of needy families all across California scratching their heads and wondering whats worse? In the wake of last weeks election in which voters soundly rejected five of six initiatives intended to balance the state budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is warning of fiscal Armageddon. The state is facing a $21.3 billion deficit with few options.

Waiting for the next round of cuts many low-income families like the Elliotts are walking an uneasy path between wellness and illness.

Its the fear of the unknown. Not knowing where they plan to cut is very frustrating. Were waiting on the other shoe to drop said Terney. To put it more succinctly the Fontana couple says, Officials want Californians to swallow their tricks and hold hands while sliding into the abyss.

Gutting or eliminating Healthy Families

The Elliotts sons Terney, Jr. and Jesse suffer from chronic asthma. Both children are insured under the states Healthy Families program, which provides a range of health and dental services for children of low income families.

If the governors proposed budget cuts are approved cuts that health advocates describe as the most profound roll-back in Californias history so-called safety net programs like Healthy Families will be slashed or eliminated leaving families scrambling.

Elliott and her husband both have jobs, but they dont qualify for federal help under Medi-Cal and their jobs dont offer health benefits. The couple struggles every month to pay $300 for maintenance and

emergency asthma inhalers and other critical medications not covered by Healthy Families.

The Elliotts claim theyve put off mortgage payments, borrowed from family members and fellow churchgoers because for the past 7 years pharmaceutical companies have successfully lobbied

the FDA and Congress to ban generic inhalers and drugs once covered by the state insurance plan.

This is hitting our poorest families. These are working families, most of them are earning minimum wage, said Anthony Wright, director of the bipartisan advocacy group Health Access.

According to the Health Access report that analyzed the cuts if the state scraps the Healthy Families program, more than 1 million children would lose their health coverage. Elimination of the program would save about $1.1 billion annually.

You hear the governor threatening Armageddon. What does that mean to a kid facing life and death without a safety net? said Terney, its a sickening feeling when you cant take care of your kid.

Other cost saving measures proposed in Schwarzeneggers 2009-10 budget include a roll-back in Medi-Cal eligibility for low income working parents to about 72 percent of the federal poverty level ($18,310 for a family of three), which would disqualify about 433,000 parents.

These changes are not cost effective long term and would overburden the states an already overtaxed health care System, said Wright. These cuts could be minimized if the governor takes a more balanced solution that includes raising revenue.

As the recession peels away thousands of jobs, welfare caseloads and costs are rising at an unprecedented rate, Inland officials say.

Payments to needy residents including food stamps, general assistance, cash grants and in-home services soared more than 30 percent from a year ago. New applications for assistance were up sharply in April, continuing a two year trend.
California State University Los Angeles, political science professor Jamie Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs, said Californians can only brace for conditions theyve never experienced.

CalWorks on the chopping block

Regalado is disturbed by another Schwarzenegger budget balancing proposal termination of CalWorks, the welfareto- work program serving low-income elderly, blind and disabled people.

The proposal comes on the heels of about $88 million in statewide cuts from CalWorks in September 2008. San Bernardino County lost roughly $3.7 million, and Riverside County lost about $2.9 million. The Legislature also suspended cost-of-living increases for CalWorks, which resulted in a roughly $6 million loss of anticipated funding to San Bernardinos program.

Another looming impact is the states plan to cut back its contribution to the $11.50-an-hour wage for in-home health support service providers. In July, the state will help pay only up to $9.50 an hour and Schwarzenegger has proposed another reduction to $8 an hour.

Teaching a lesson Nicole Elliott thinks lawmakers will roll out the most noticeable cuts first to try to teach voters a lesson for rejecting the ballot measures.

Theyll find ways to stick it to the public instead of insisting on real reform. On this mess, heads or tails everyone loses.

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