By Miriam Raftery
June 23, 2009 (San Diego)-- An estimated 200 to 300 people turned out to protest state budget cuts in San Diego, outside Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office downtown. Some carried coffins and a skeleton sign—grim symbols of the consequences they believe will result from severe cuts to health and social services programs.
Ann Menasche, a lawyer with San Diego Disability Action Coalition, said the cuts will be “devastating” to disabled individuals. “People already don’t have enough to live on,” she said the predicted, “With cuts to SSI and Medicare, we are going to see more homeless people and more hunger.”
For those on Medi-Cal, she added, “All mental healthcare will be cut. A lot of people with in-home services will no longer qualify.” In addition, coverage for dental, optometry, psychological and psychiatric care are also being cut, Menasche said.
Asked how she would propose to balance the budget without such severe cuts, Menasche called on the Governor and Legislature to require wealthy Californians to pay their fair share and to close corporate loopholes. Martin Eder of Activist San Diego faulted an economy “that’s basically run by developers and big business interests that have created a collapse…The effects are being born by the poorest in society. People at the bottom are suffocating.”
The cuts will also impact public education. Teacher Judy Ki of Poway carried a sign that chided the Governor: “Real men don’t steal from school children.”
Carlos Pelayo, organizer with United Domestic Workers (UDW) Union, said over 20,000 in-home caregivers in San Diego County could be impacted. “They are devoted to keeping their clients out of long-term care facilities,” he said. “It costs 1/6 as much to care for someone at home than to put them in a facility…and it’s a healthy environment that allows people to heal better.”
California allows family members to be paid as caregivers. Statewide, over 60% of those receiving in-home care are cared for by family or friends. “Most are homebound. They are quitting their jobs” to provide care for loved ones, Pelayo said, adding that the impact of cuts will have a severe impact.
In-home care workers who have been paid $11.50 an hour, plus benefits, now face having wages sliced to $9.50 an hour starting July 1st—and the Governor has proposed slashing wages to minimum wage, $8.00 an hour. Those on the program must first qualify for Medicare and SSI, he said, adding that locally the program covers many in East County including places as far east as Borrego Springs. (For more information on the program, including resources for caregivers and families, visit www.udwa.org.)
“If the public knew about this, they would be screaming,” he said of the proposed cuts for caregivers of the sick, dying and disabled. “If you cut this, you jeopardize public safety—and you hurt the whole family.”
Today in Sacramento, Democrats unveiled a new plan to spare severe cuts in services to the poor and sick, as well as keep state parks open. Democrats proposed a $23.2 billion package that includes a combination of spending cuts, accounting shifts, fee increases and new taxes on tobacco products and companies that drill for oil. The plan would also cut $5.5 billion from public education but return billions of dollars to schools in the future.
Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Democrats rejected the governor's proposals to eliminate health insurance for nearly 1 million low-income children, the state's welfare-to-work program and college grants, the Sacramento Bee reported.
"The governor's price, as laid out in his series of May revises, is too high," Steinberg said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters. "We're not eliminating the safety net for the most vulnerable Californians. We're not doing it. It's anathema to everything I believe in."
Instead, Democrats proposed a 9.9 percent tax on oil production in the state, increasing the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack and imposing an increase of $15 in the vehicle license fee, which was raised earlier this year. The vehicle fee would allow the state to keep open 220 state parks Schwarzenegger proposed closing. Schwarzenegger has proposed a fee on homeowner's insurance policies, averaging $48 a year, to fund fire and emergency response services, but he opposes the Democrats' taxes on oil companies and tobacco.
A budget impasse looms, as Republicans staunchly refuse to support any fee or tax increases, insisting that the budget be balanced entirely with cuts that would most severely impact the poor.
If a budget is not passed by July 1, severe cuts will be imposed and the state risks running out of money.
If you wish to voice your opinion on the budget to your California State Senator and California Assemblymember, you can find their contact information in the Citizens Action Center.