By Miriam Raftery
June 10, 2011 (San Diego) – A coalition of organizations serving people in need hosted a forum on June 2 at the City Heights Center to voice sharp criticism of San Diego County Supervisors. The criticism stemmed from two new reports by the Center on Policy Initiatives titled San Diego County Revenues and Reserves and County Employees: Overworked and Undermined.
The first report compared California’s 12 largest counties and found that San Diego takes in less revenue and has amassed reserves of $2.2 billion while restricting safety net services amid a recession. The County has left millions of dollars in state and federal aid funds unclaimed even though there are many eligible local residents for programs such as food stamps, CalWorks and Medi-Cal.
San Diego keeps higher reserves on hand than any other county in the state, except Alameda, while declining to expend more funds to enroll those already eligible for state and federal aid programs at a time when 10.3% of San Diegans are unemployed and poverty rates are also double digit. San Diego has long trailed other counties in providing services, for instance enrolling less than half of those eligible for Medi-Cal. A 2010 report found San Diego ranks at or near the bottom in the state for administering CalWORKS and Medi-Cal programs.
San Diego County also raises substantially less revenue than other major counties in California, the study found, opting to keep taxes and fees low while providing lesser services to the poor. San Diego collects 26% less revenue in taxes, 10% less in federal and state grants, and 43% less in service charges than the average for other big California counties ona per household basis.
A federal court found the county’s income-eligibility standards for medical services of last resort violated the law and ordered the county to provide services to more residents. The County also left $106 million in state and federal funds unclaimed in 2008 for enrolling eligible residents in the federal food stamp program, leaving many poor residents who qualified for federal benefits without help to buy food.
“San Diego County has not prioritized the essential health and social services it is obligated to provide,” said CPI executive director Clare Crawford, adding that good fiscal stewardship isn’t just putting money in the bank. “This county has been saving for a rainy day during a monsoon,” Crawford observed.
The second report surveyed County eligibility workers a reviewed County data. Findings included understaffing, failed technology and “chaos in the public assistance enrollment system resulting in seriously degraded service quality,” according to a press release sent by CPI.
That study found that a business model reorganization implemented among the County’s Family Resource Center employed may have caused the opposite of its intended outcomes, negatively impacting workers’ ability to perform their jobs. The stated intent of the reorganization plan, called Business Process Reengineering, was to raise efficiency enhance customer service and improve performance and job satisfaction of employees.
Sample comments from employees included this one: “I first took this job because I liked helping people. I had clients, I knew them and where they worked, and their families. Now that we are tasked-base I don’t know any of the clients. The BPR has created a situation where there is nobody following up with clients, so they fall through the cracks.”
The study found case resolution has dropped and a software system crashes multiple times a week for hours at a time, causing clients to have to submit documents over and over again and make repeated trips to the Family Resources Center.
“It’s not people-oriented. It’s not service-oriented,” another worker said. “Sometimes we have to deal with the human spirit and human need. I don’t want to be harassed by my supervisor for doing that. I don’t want to be rude and brush off the customer. So how do we win here?”