Labor protesting cuts to IHSS last year in
Sacramento. PHOTO/UDWA

ALAMEDA COUNTY//BUDGET | If all else fails, the needy have the county safety net to provide a modicum of health and human services in troubled times. However, after five years of staggering budgets shortfalls, Alameda County is again struggling to maintain services while revenues shrink and demand for aid continues to rise.

From health care, child care and affordable housing to programs that serve the chronically unemployed, children and the elderly, the burdens on the poor continue to disproportionately rise, said numerous county department heads and speakers testifying last week at an hearing on the human impacts of the county’s budget.

Following three years of triple-digit funding gaps, Alameda County expects to pare down in the next month an estimated $80.2 million shortfall for the 2013-14 fiscal year. It follows a similar shortfall a year ago of $88.1 million balanced primarily with the use one-time only funds.

The situation may be no more dire than for county residents fighting to live on CalWORKS, the state’s version of welfare assistance. After cuts to the program in recent years, Lori Cox, director of the Alameda County Social Services Agency, says proposals to lower the time limit for recipients in half from 48 months to 24, will adversely affect over 3,200 families drawing aid, she says is already insufficient to survive.

A family of three can draw $638-a-month, said Cox, which represents a 12 percent cut over five years ago, but the amount is limited to a maximum of $7,600, which falls well below the federal poverty line, she estimates at $19,000 annually. “There’s no time limit of poverty,” added Diana Spatz, who works for a vendor that contracts with CalWORKS recipients.

The state of child care and family services is doing no better, although no states cuts are expected on the horizon, said Angie Garling, coordinator for the Alameda County Child Care Planning Council. However, children in the county lost $32 million in funding last year, Garling said, while federal sequester cuts could equal over 200 children losing county services, along with cuts to teachers and shortened days of service.

Marva Lyons, a child care provider in the county, says regardless of cuts, she has to care for the kids she looks after. “I still give them the same care,” she said. “I have to feed them. It’s not something I’m going to give up on.” In addition, Lyons, says she has great reluctance to asking parents to cover the costs left by previous budget cuts. “I know Alameda County knows,” she said. “I want to get Sacramento to understand.”

Alex Briscoe, the director of Alameda County Healthcare Services says over 200,000 county residents, a majority of which reside in Hayward, Ashland and Oakland, do not presently have health care insurance. Although ramped up implementation of the Affordable Care Act starting Jan. 1 will greatly help get residents timely care, Briscoe says 100,000 people will still be without insurance due to unaffordability and inability to inform all of the public.

Nevertheless, Alameda County has pre-enrolled more of its resident in Medi-Cal than any other county in the state, Briscoe says. And, despite tough economic times, the county has chosen to provide indigent health care to an estimated 60,000 undocumented residents even though the Affordable Care Act explicitly denies states funding for non-citizens.

For the elderly and those with disabilities who require In-Home Supportive Services, cuts by the state in 2001 reduced hours by 3.6 percent through this year along with further cuts blocked by a federal court. In the meantime, the number of in-home patients in Alameda County has sharply risen to nearly 19,000, says Randy Morris of the Alameda County Social Services Agency. Not only are in-home patients suffering, but so are caregivers, says Morris, who stand to lose $766 annually in lost wages due to state cuts.

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan says she counting on an outpouring of personal stories to convince lawmakers in the Legislature to think twice about funding cuts to the safety net. On Wednesday, Chan said the state would have made 20 percent in further cuts to In-Home Supportive Services, if not for the stakeholder speaking in opposition.