For good reason. Brown's budget will eliminate $8 billion in funding for health care, welfare, pre-school, child care and higher education. Having been a county supervisor for eight years, I am well versed in the budgetary process conducted annually by the government. Public budgets are about setting priorities and in the end reflect the values of elected decision-makers. County governments are responsible for delivering social services and providing safety nets for their residents. Often the debate is over funding for public safety versus public health and well-being. Police and fire protection services are often pitted against health clinics and food stamps, and prioritized.
In Sacramento, that annual struggle over the governor's proposed $91 billion budget continues with the poor and the vulnerable losing out. Women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities don't have the political clout to make politicians value them or represent their needs and interests.
In the governor's budget message he demonstrated his priorities by focusing on debt reduction, education and public safety.
If Brown's budget goes through in this form, state welfare and health care programs for the poor will be cut by $2 billion. This includes Medi-Cal, CalWORKS, child care, In Home Health Services and other welfare and human service programs. If the tax measure on the November ballot does not pass, K-12 and community colleges will lose $5.5 million and the Cal State and UC systems will lose half a billion dollars.
This is a no-win game. The governor and the legislature do not have a long-range vision. Here's the conundrum:
- Cut child care and women cannot go to school or work;
- Cut education or vocational training and women cannot prepare for work or raise their incomes;
- Cut health care and women and their families will either avoid treatment or go to emergency clinics instead;
- Cut government jobs (mostly held by women) and women may have to go on unemployment;
- Cut home-health services and the sick or disabled will lose health care and caregivers will lose their jobs.
- Any one of these losses will harshly impact single-parent families, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
In January, the Women's Foundation released its "Falling Behind" report, which documents the losses women and children have suffered during the last five years due to the recession and budget cuts. It finds California experiencing one of the country's widest gaps between the rich and poor, with single mothers hit hardest. It also finds that budget cuts have made it harder for seniors (65 and older) and women with disabilities to retain housing and secure food.
There's also a growing number of women in poverty, according to the report. During this period, the percentage of single-mother families below the poverty line grew from 31.7 percent to 35.4 percent, an increase of 3.7 percentage points. The number of older women in poverty is higher than the number of older men, and grew from 9.5 to 11.2 percent.
The report provides the data legislators and the governor need to develop a budget that is fair and equitable before June 15, when the budget is scheduled for adoption. Elected officials should be pressed to use this data to shape policies and devise wise revenue solutions.
California, like many states, is faced with a budgetary tsunami, and our leadership has chosen the wrong path to resolution.
Now is the time for acts of courage in Sacramento. It is a crucial moment in California history.
Are we a caring and compassionate state or more concerned with balancing the budget at the expense of the least fortunate? Legislators must choose the latter. They must reject a slash-and-burn approach that will make the gap between rich and poor in the golden state ever more extreme.
Susan Rose served for eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She is a member of the board of trustees of Antioch University Santa Barbara.