Calif. governor lashes out at services for poorest

With California’s budget overdue by more than a week, and banks poised to stop cashing state IOUs, Republicans including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are seeking ever larger cuts to social programs while Democrats keep trying to balance cuts with new revenues.

One of the governor’s special targets is the CalWORKS welfare-to-work program serving some 525,000 Californians. Another is In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which serves over 430,000 children and adults with disabilities, allowing them to live at home rather than receiving care in a more costly institutional setting. Though he appears to have retreated from earlier proposals to eliminate CalWORKS and severely cut IHSS, the governor lashed out at both programs this week.

Schwarzenegger called for slashing the time recipients could be assured of benefits under CalWORKS to two years from the current five years, and urged harsher penalties for recipients not complying with sometimes difficult federal requirements. “I propose that we cut services to the entire family if the parents are non-compliant,” he said.

Schwarzenegger also called California’s current maximum monthly benefit of $694 “generous,” and claimed that only 22 percent of recipients were actively engaged in job search, education or work.

Advocates for recipients pointed out that the federal measure of work participation does not recognize part-time employment. In fact, they said, nearly two-thirds of work-required adults were working.

“Not only is the program performing very well,” the Western Center on Law and Poverty’s Michael Herald told California Progress Report, “but it simply is not the source of the state’s budget crisis. In fact,” he added, “California spends 20 percent less in real dollars now than it did 15 years ago on welfare, and the state has not increased its general fund spending on CalWORKs since the program began in 1998.”

Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, said CalWORKS, which receives three times as many federal as state dollars, adds $12 billion annually to the state’s general fund. Mecca quoted a letter from state Health and Human Services agency director Kim Belshe, saying over 400,000 recipients have moved successfully into work. He also noted that California has one of the country’s lowest rates of payment error.

Governor Schwarzenegger also claimed that significant savings could be realized from combating “waste, fraud and abuse” in the In-Home Supportive Services program. Among his proposals: fingerprinting all IHSS recipients and workers, face-to-face meetings with all IHSS workers and unannounced home visits by IHSS enforcement personnel.

Nearly half of IHSS funding comes from federal matching funds, while about a third comes from the state’s general fund and the rest from county budgets. The number of recipients is expected to grow by some 7.2 percent in the current fiscal year.

Though the state Health and Human Services Agency claims fraud is a growing problem, the County Welfare Directors Association and California State Association of Counties called the state’s facts and solutions wrong or misleading. While emphasizing they welcome the chance to work with state government to build efficiencies and eliminate waste and fraud, the two associations emphasized that such efforts “should be based on facts and reality rather than anecdotes and misinformation.”

In a point-by-point analysis of the governor’s latest “reform” proposals, the Assembly Budget Committee observed that only three of his 16 proposals would save any money in the coming fiscal year. Promises of future savings were used to justify increased privatization of public services, while “draconian” proposed cuts were hidden behind a patina of “reform.”

Schwarzenegger also reiterated his insistence that a budget agreement must not include any tax increases, and must address the entire deficit, now $26 billion and growing.