The Special Election being held on May 19th is being penned by the Schwarzenegger Administration as a way to fix California’s “broken budget system”. While it is understood that California’s budget woes are going to effect us for generations to come, before voting yes on any of these propositions we should take a look at who has been impacted the most by budget cuts that are set to take place over the next few months: the poorest, sickest, and most vulnerable people in our communities.
Nobody said this would be easy. The repercussions of a faltering economy in many cases are that some general services will be lost due to budget cuts. Here in OB, activists fought to protect essential services in our community of blue collar, hardworking people – Rec Centers and Libraries – and in the wake of winning that battle were used as ammunition for the Mayor and his cronies to propose salary cuts for city employees.
Nonetheless, many of the public servants effected by these cuts went along with the plan and agreed to the proposal. These people should be commended, and hopefully as San Diego’s financial situation improves the lost income will somehow be made up. Similar stories have played out in in other major cities nationwide, and they too should be commended for giving up a little bit of their own safety net for the benefit of their neighbors.
Unfortunately, the feeling of community that has bound many people together during these tough times is lost on the decision makers in Sacramento. As part of the February budget agreement, beginning May 1st recipients of SSI/SSP (senior, disabled and mentally ill) saw a reduction in the maximum monthly grant of over 4% – from $907/month to $870/month.
Another cut, of a little over 2%, is set to take place on July 1st bringing the MAXIMUM monthly income for the most vulnerable Californians to $850/month (not everyone receives the maximum grant, of course). According to the California Budget Project, the average person receiving this meager monthly income will see a loss of approximately $770 dollars between May 2009 and June 2010 – essentially undercutting the usefulness of the $250 dollar Federal stimulus check being sent to all Social Security recipients this month.
I can tell you from first hand experience working with people on fixed-incomes that its very tough to get by on just over $10,000 dollars a year. Imagine creating a personal, itemized budget with that kind of income: Rent, Food, wait can’t afford food, wait can’t afford rent, SHIT. I might as well move to Idaho. (or Sacramento or Reno or Seattle or Nashville or St. Petersburg…) Let us not forget that people receiving these monthly stipends are generally either: A) seriously disabled; B) seriously mentally ill; or C) seriously disabled by their mental illness.
If that doesn’t make you seethe – imagine telling Granny she has to move out of her Senior Living Facility because her monthly check just dropped $50 – the February budget agreement also included massive cuts to Medi-Cal services set to take effect July 1st. You may ask what services Medi-Cal could possibly cut. Well, the answer is, most of them. Starting July 1st, Medi-Cal will no longer cover adult dental (denti-cal), psychology, chiropractic, acupuncture, speech therapy, incontinence creams and washes, audiology, optometry, and podiatry. Okay, I know what you’re saying: Medi-Cal covers acupuncture?
Nonetheless, the more essential services (such as adult dental care and psychology) are a little more glaring in that grocery list of eliminations. Most damaging to the California economy (and that includes the clinics that provide most of the medical care to Medi-Cal recipients) is the elimination of adult dental care – which is why the California Primary Care Association has filed a lawsuit to block these cuts from taking place.
The state has tagged these services as “optional” in its most recent budget, but for community clinics characterized as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Centers (RHC), those services are part of their Federal and State definition. (You can read the basic talking points of the lawsuit
here) I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine the Governator dismissing his pearly veneers as “optional”.
Hopefully this lawsuit will provide a means in which to hold our Governor and his supporters in Sacramento accountable for their lack of compassion, although it seems as if subtracting services for the poor and disabled during lean times is a rite of passage for California Governors (see Deukmejian, George).
Access to health care is a basic human right, and only time will tell if the Republic of California is on the path to Third World status. We can start bucking that trend by dismissing any of the current budget reform talk and making sure that our sick, our poor, and our elderly continue to receive the economic and medical support they rely on to survive.