Four Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles programs that serve the elderly, disabled and frail may end up casualties of the state budget crisis, which leapt to a new level of urgency Tuesday as California lawmakers failed to pass budget revisions before a July 1 deadline.
More than $4 million in state funding for JFS could be zeroed out if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has his way; budgets currently working their way through legislative committees also require significant cuts on top of previous cuts made during last September’s budget negotiations. If no budget compromise is reached in the legislature before California runs out of money, JFS could be forced to close down programs that aim to keep indigent elderly and disabled clients out of institutions, and another that gives shelter to victims of domestic abuse.
JFS fears clients’ lives are in the balance.
Huge portions of the state’s social service network are in jeopardy. Even best-case scenarios significantly cut programs that serve the poor, disabled, elderly, ill and abused, and most recipients in programs throughout the state will see cuts in multiple resources they access.
“We have long said that we like to see ourselves as an important part of the safety net,” said Paul Castro, CEO and executive director of JFS, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “As a result of all this the safety net is going to be broken. Where in prior years when the net was broken we had been in a position to catch people if they fell through, our best hope now is to just help break the fall, because we aren’t going to be able to catch them.”
Schwarzenegger and the legislature passed an 18-month budget last February that had been meant to remain in effect through June 2010. But California’s declining revenues and the failure of the May 19 propositions to free up initiative-locked dollars rendered the February budget worthless, a situation lawmakers failed to remedy when they couldn’t come to agreement on budget revisions by July 1. A gap of $25.3 billion now lingers, on top of the $15 billion in cuts made in February.
JFS has received notice that Medi-Cal funded programs will continue to be paid through July, though other budget areas may receive IOUs from State Controller John Chiang that the state started issuing July 2.
Still, JFS is bracing for the worst. It is prepared to begin informing clients of potential closures; lay-off notices that it hopes it won’t have to implement already went out to staff; and JFS and the union that represents most of its staff have agreed to a 45-day closure of affected agencies so it can regroup if funding disappears.
The largest JFS program targeted is Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP), a case management program that provides frail, needy seniors with community-based aid – nurse and social worker visits, taxi vouchers, home aids – to keep them in their own homes and out of nursing facilities.
Forty-two MSSP programs operate across the state, and JFS sees 800 clients at the one program it operates with a budget of $2.8 million, cut from $3.3 million earlier this year. While state legislatures are hoping to keep the program intact in the budget they are working on, the governor’s proposal eliminates the state’s $1.4 million contribution – which is currently matched dollar-for-dollar by the Federal government. The governor’s plan, or a long-term failure to pass a budget, would mean the closure of MSSP. Because it is a Medi-Cal supported program, it will continue to receive state dollars through July.
“In my conversations with Sacramento, I’ve been very straight about the reality. They ask what will happen if MSSP closes, and I say that some families – if the clients have family – will figure out ways to care for their elderly, and some clients will have to stay home, and they will die,” Castro said. “One of the things this program does is monitor them … When nobody else is around, they may forget to take their medications, they may forget to eat. It won’t be long before many clients deteriorate.”
Clients will vie for a shrinking number of nursing home beds covered by Medi-Cal, an option that would likely cost the state much more than it is paying MSSP. Castro said one estimate demonstrates that if half the MSSP clients statewide end up in nursing homes, it will cost the state $200 million – not counting emergency room visits that will skyrocket – as opposed to the $28 million required to support the entire program.
“It will balance the budget today, but you’ll have to pay for it tomorrow,” Castro said.
The same is true for the Partners Adult Day Health Care program, which is also a Medi-Cal reimbursed program. The program shuttles 230 frail, medically challenged and disabled clients to a center in West Hollywood, where they receive meals, nursing care, social work and other services. It gives respite to family caregivers – often allowing them to work during the day – and prevents clients from being institutionalized, which would cost the state a lot more.
The governor is proposing cutting the entire $736,000 in state support, effectively ending the program. The budget legislators failed to present but are still working on requires minor belt tightening.
“If caregivers have to stay at home to take care of their mother, that means they have to quit their job, which means welfare or food stamps. The ripple effects are not being quantified as additional costs,” Castro said.
Another JFS program being targeted, Linkages, uses a case management model to provide resources and service to about 125 disabled adults, costing $217,000 a year. The governor’s proposal would eliminate all funding, and the legislators’ version would cut it by one third.
Two domestic violence shelters and related services for 450 battered women and children would lose $347,000 in state funding in the governor’s version of the budget, and would be cut by 20 percent in the current legislators’ version. The JFS/Family Violence Project would likely survive the cuts, as it also gets county and federal money, but it might need to be scaled back – perhaps to just one shelter instead of two.
During past budget crises – California is consistently late in passing budgets – JFS has been able to float threatened programs by dipping into reserves or borrowing from its line of credit. But with fundraising down, banks squeamish about lending and the cuts as drastic as they are, Castro isn’t sure JFS would be able to carry the programs past August. It already carried the programs through last summer’s budget stalemate, which lasted through September, and the February budget crisis.
And Castro hasn’t been able to get a clear answer from Sacramento about any transition plan if the programs are forced to close.
“Are we to abandon these clients? Do we suddenly turn off the spigot?” Castro asked. “We’re dealing with peoples lives – this is not about bureaucracy.”
He is appealing to the Jewish community not only to lobby Sacramento, but to contribute to JFS so that it can help clients through a painful period.
“What we can do is try to find resources to help people transition through the next few months. You can’t make up $4 million, but we can target resources in specific way that can help clients find alternatives,” Castro said.
But he fears those alternatives are shrinking.
“The part that is troubling is that nobody is thinking about what California is going to look like after this,” Castro said. “What is the state going to be about if we shut down all these programs that help the most vulnerable?”
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