May 28 2009

Governor’s Proposed Cuts Will End Welfare as We Know It

| the entire program

budget cutsCalifornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cuts to the state budget so deep that they could result in completely decimating the state’s safety net. In the aftermath of the May 19th special election, where voters rejected all but one budget measure, lawmakers now have an estimated $24 billion budget gap to fill. The governor interpreted the election results as a “very clear message to Sacramento: Live within your means, cut spending, slash the size of government, get rid of the waste and the inefficiency and don’t raise taxes.” The cuts are expected to entirely eliminate or drastically cut California’s main welfare programs including Healthy Families which provides health insurance to over a million children, ADAP, the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, CalWORKS, a welfare-to-work program for poor families, cutting K-12 school funding, and many more programs targeting poor women, children, teachers, students, immigrants, and people with disabilities. The Budget conference committee yesterday took public comment on the proposed cuts, in what is likely to be the only opening for public input. California has the worst budget crisis of all 50 states and has appealed to the federal government for assistance. Still, the $24 billion shortfall is far less than what banking and other corporations have received in the form of federal bailouts.

GUESTS: Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California, Sarah Knopp, activist with UTLA, chapter co-chair at Youth Oppoturnities Unlimited Alternative High School

Read Anthony Wright’s article about the budget cuts here: http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2009/05/governor_will_c.html.

For more information, visit www.health-access.org, and www.utla.net.

Rough Transcript

Sonali: Anthony, let me start with you. So, the proposed cuts are still just proposed cuts. How devastating would these be?

Anthony: We’ve never seen this kind of scale before. They would be the most profound rollback of health coverage in the state’s history. We project that the proposals would actually deny coverage to about 2 million Californians – 1.5 million of them, children.

Sonali: Health insurance coverage?

Anthony: Health insurance coverage. The proposal included the full elimination of our Healthy Families Program which covers low-income children of working parents – about a million children there. It also makes a billion dollars of cuts in Medi-cal which covers children, parents, seniors and people with disabilities under the poverty level. It’s hard to state what the ramifications are of such cuts. It means lost federal matching funds but it also has a ripple-effect on the health care system we all rely on and that lost money from the federal government means particular economic impacts as well.

Sonali: Sarah, what about the cuts to education? You are one of several teachers who, in recent weeks, have been expressing yourself in the form of civil disobedience and, you know, just speaking loudly about the anticipated cuts to education which have been in the bulls-eye now for some time. What do you expect the effect to education will be?

Sarah: It’s going to be devastating and we did the civil disobedience that we did on May 15th and were arrested because we wanted to point out that the real crimes here are being committed by the state and by the district and we wanted to call attention to that. In elementary classes, class sizes are going to rise between three to five students which, if you can imagine kindergartners, the biggest thing that they need is attention and many of the young new enthusiastic, energetic teachers won’t be there next year and class sizes are going to rise. In eleventh and twelfth grade, class sizes are going to be, on average, above forty if these new proposed cuts go through. So, our children deserve much better than this. And, the money’s there too. As teachers, we like to point out that if you look at even the amount of money that was spent by California taxpayers on the war so far, that’s been about 114 billion dollars. So that completely dwarfs the amount of money that our budget deficit is at 24 million dollars and even on a smaller level you can look at ways that the money’s there. So, the fact that it’s not filtering down to our children is the actual crime.

Sonali: I want to try to put this in perspective a little bit in terms of the monies that the budget deficit but also just the philosophy that is being expressed here. First of all, if you look at the election that took place on May 19th, there were about 19% of all eligible voters that showed up to vote in the election and they voted down five of the six budget measures. Problematic as those measures were, the governor’s taking the message that voters don’t want to raise taxes and they do want to cut spending and they do want to slash the size of government. These are standard Republican talking points. What do you think about this, Anthony? It seems as though the governor is using this economic crisis almost as sort of a shock approach to getting rid of a safety net that Republicans have never liked.

Anthony: He’s willfully misreading the election. The propositions that got the worst response, the ones that got the fewest votes were the ones that were actually going to cut health and other vital services. These were Propositions 1d on children’s services, Proposition 1e on mental health services. Those got the lowest votes of any of the measures on the ballot. We also, as the public, voted against Proposition 1a which is a spending cap. It was tied to some tax increases but the focus of the opposition, especially the funded opposition, was against the spending cap. So, the notion that this is some sort of anti-tax vote doesn’t make sense on the face of it. There was a poll that was done as people were leaving the polling booths that suggested that people did want to prioritize health, education, other vital services and were willing to support a range of taxes which is what we frankly need in order to get out of this. Let’s be honest here. In order to prevent these devastating cuts to health and education and other vital services, we will need to raise taxes. We will need to raise the revenues needed to sustainably prevent these cuts and I think that the voters wanted a responsible, balanced approach. What they were tired of were the gimmicks and the complicated gimmicks that they saw on the ballot on May 19th.

Sonali: Sarah, I’d like your response to this as well and, you know, just get your sense of the money involved. You brought up the fact that California voters, taxpayers have paid far more for the war in Iraq and a tax increase would, more likely, if it was done right, affect the rich, whereas the spending cuts affect low-income, poor people, vulnerable people – women, children, immigrants, people with disabilities. So, it seems pretty sort of straightforward logic there if we look at these budget cuts what they really mean.

Sarah: Yes, Sonali, I’m glad that you mentioned the word “shock”. And I’m sure that your listeners will be familiar with the book, The Shock Doctrine, and that’s really what’s going on here.

Sonali: Naomi Klein’s book.

Sarah: Yes, I think that the politicians are trying to use this economic crisis as an excuse to push through the things that they’ve been wanting to do for a while. So, in education, one of the things that that means is privatization and it also means breaking the teachers’ union which is one of the last strong unions that has been standing up to some of their policies and one of the last things that we have to fight against some of these really regressive cuts and draconian measures.

Sonali: Well, now, just on the issue of the teachers, the legislature and the governor might respond – well, we put Propositions 1a and 1b on the ballot for teachers to help save education spending but voters turned it down.

Sarah: Yeah, but I think that a lot of people saw through what those really were because the dangerous thing about 1a is the spending cap. So, I think it was part of their program. And I think about raising taxes – actually, what a lot of people don’t know is how incredibly regressive the state tax system is. So, people should go on the California Budget Project website: cpb.org And you can see on their website that actually in California, the top richest 20% of people in California pay about 7.1% of their incomes in state taxes. The bottom 20 %, the poorest people in California pay about 11.7% of their total incomes in state taxes and that’s because of the incredibly regressive nature of sales taxes. And, so what we need is an actual progressive taxation structure in this state. Oil corporations don’t even pay taxes. So, I think that part of what was going on with the election is people rejecting the logic that we need to take it out of our own backs when we’ve already been paying for their policies for the past thirty years. What we need is an actual progressive taxation structure and we could solve these problems immediately.

Sonali: Anthony, let’s follow up on what Sarah just suggested. A progressive taxation structure, first, what is your opinion on that? But that certainly is a long-term thing. Say that you agree with that in the long term. But in the short term, doesn’t a federal bailout of the state of California sound like a good idea when we’re talking about millions of children at risk? I mean, you know, a Citigroup is too big to fail but is the state of California also too big to fail?

Anthony: I think we need assistance from some of our federal allies and what we certainly don’t need is the federal government allowing us to make some of these cuts that right now are prohibited by federal law. Some of the cuts to Medi-Cal – again, the program that covers over 6.8 million children, parents, seniors and people with disabilities – there’s some prohibitions about what you can cut with regard to eligibility that the governor is actually seeking additional federal permission in order to make those cuts. Fundamentally, California is going to have to dig out of this hole using its own resources. The problem, of course, is the structure, especially with the 2/3 vote in the state legislature in order to pass a budget and/or revenue. That allows the Republican minority in the legislature to basically hold a veto power over anything with regard to the budget and taxes. It’s a tyranny of the minority and that has created the situation that we’re in where, for years and years, we’ve had to have lowest common denominator budgets that don’t raise the money needed to sustain these services and so we’re going to need to fight for revenues – if they’re progressive, even better – in order to make sure that these programs can be sustained and are not cut and, especially, eliminated as is being proposed right now.

Sonali: My guest is Anthony Wright. He’s the Executive Director of Health Access California. Also with us is Sarah Knopp, an activist with United Teachers of Los Angeles. She’s one of several teachers who have been participating in acts of civil disobedience to protest the proposed spending cuts in education. Now,I want to just go through some of the programs again that are going to be cut. In a piece that Anthony published on the California Progress Report, he went through the just devastating impact that these cuts could have, not only to the Healthy Families Program, which would be entirely eliminated, and I also mentioned the Aids Drug Assistance Program, CalWorks, we’re also talking about cuts in Mental Health Managed Care Services, cuts in Maternal Child and Adolescent Health Programs, cuts in Early and Periodic Screening Diagnosis for certain health programs as well as health services for immigrants – and these are documented immigrants we’re talking about here. Lots and lots of programs that affect core communities like family planning – Planned Parenthood has also raised their protest to the governor because there would be major cuts to family planning services that are funded by the state, HIV education and prevention, payments to private hospitals for uninsured people, substance abuse treatment services, and on and on. So, it’s pretty serious. Sarah, following up on what Anthony was saying about the Republican minority stronghold, what about the Democratic majority and these spending cuts? Do you think that, despite the fact that we have a Republican governor, that the Democrats in the legislature are going to allow this?

Sarah: Well, I think part of it is going to depend on what we do because I think the Democrats and Republicans right now both accept the logic that this is a crisis, that this is a recession and so we have to cut. And, both of them, essentially, take their cues from corporations so neither one of them is about to propose the kind of genuinely progressive tax structure that it would take to solve this problem unless we are so strong in the streets and in our demands that we force them to do something different. So, I think a lot of it depends on what we do. I know that the Democratic Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, has been here meeting with the people here in Los Angeles and the main things that he’s talking about is more data so that we can do merit pay for teachers, more standardized testing…

Sonali: How can there be more standardized testing?

Sarah: Right. Well, what they’d like to do is they’d like to tie teacher’s pay to how well our students do on standardized tests and, you know, for them to be talking about this right now when we’re in the middle of a crisis and we’re appealing to them and saying we need more stimulus money, this is a crime that this is happening, but as people have seen in the newspapers, that level of help is not about to come unless perhaps we can convince them that there will be civil unrest if they don’t give our children in Los Angeles the kind of resources that they deserve and they need.

Sonali: So, finally, let me pose this question to both of you. First, Anthony, and then back to you Sarah. Anthony, do you agree with Sarah that’s it’s just going to have to take just massive public outrage over these proposed cuts and, even then, will all of the programs survive do you think? Is it also going to be a matter of appealing simultaneously to the federal government, to the Obama administration? What do you suggest people can do?

Anthony: Well, this is a multi-front battle, if you will. I think it’s getting our Democratic legislators to stay strong, for them to be as strong about defending these programs as the Republicans are about their no-new-tax pledge, you know, saying that there’s certain places where any right-minded legislator should not go to. It’s advocacy in Republican areas because I fundamentally believe that people who live in Republican districts care as much about their schools and their parks and their hospitals and their emergency rooms as anybody else and doing that work and that advocacy with those legislators. I think it’s with the governor, I think it’s with the federal government who will make some decisions with regard to both cuts and whatever assistance we get in the short term. I think it’s a long-term fight for changing the way our budget process does, including getting rid of the two-thirds rule that allows for the tyranny of the minority. And so, for people who want to get involved, it was mentioned – the California Budget Project has good information. My organization is keeping close track of this at our website at www.health-access.org What we need is people to get involved. People pay a lot less attention to the state politics than they do to the federal but people need to be engaged in this state budget crisis in order for any change to meaningfully happen.

Sonali: Well, Anthony Wright, thank you very much for joining us. Sarah, finally, your thoughts as well in terms of what you think needs to happen, specifically as it relates to teachers as well. How can the public support and be in solidarity with teachers like yourself?

Sarah: Right. I’d just like to mention a couple of things that people can do to support the fight for education right now. There are a number of teachers who are going on hunger strike right now to call attention to the issue and this is going to culminate in a community camp-in at Lacey Middle School on Monday, Jun 1st at 6:00. That’s at 650 S. Union, Lacey Middle School. And what people are going to do is camp out and say these are our schools – they belong to the students and the teachers and the parents and so it’s going to be a community event and we’re saying we’re not leaving these schools, you can’t cut these teachers and compromise the futures of these students. So, that’s Monday, June 1st at 6:00 p.m. at Lacey Middle School. And, then there’s going to be another protest at the school board on Tuesday, June 9th where we’re saying, hey, spend the stimulus money and you can save the jobs this year. So, there are things that the community can do to come out and support us right now.

Sonali: And, again, that’s Tuesday, June 9th. An aspect of this that we didn’t mention was that in addition to saving our public programs, we’re talking about a huge number of jobs at stake here, which, in the context of this economy, is also very, very relevant. I mean, if these programs are cut, if schools are cut, if teachers are cut, it does affect the economy in the long term even given the premise that Republicans follow about consumer-based society. If you cut jobs then people don’t have as much money to spend certainly.

Special Thanks to Julie Svendsen for transcribing.

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Governor’s Proposed Cuts Will End Welfare as We Know It”

  1. Jenniferon 28 May 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I just got a notice today that they are cutting my cash aid and that I need to work. I just got a job last week and was supposed to start this week. However, the client has now cancelled. Now I don’t have a job. What do a do if there are no jobs, no place to live, and no way to find work. What the hell am I going to do now?

  2. Buhlahon 31 May 2009 at 8:52 pm

    The big problem with welfare in California is that programs spend most of the tax dollars to upgrade low income earners to comfortable middle class lifestyles. For example, we all know of cases where tax money was used to install airconditioning in the cars of these pampered poodles.
    After that, there is no money left for people who really need assistance.

  3. commonon 09 Jun 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Jennifer, get a job!

  4. BIG Ron 18 Apr 2011 at 5:02 am

    Stop having kids.get off your dead butts and do something productive.WORK,WORK,WORK EVEN IF IT’S THE JOBS THE ILLEGALS HAVE.They by way are being deported.Working people are not responsible for your bad decisions.YOU MADE THEM YOU LIVE WITH THEM.Oh ya you’ll be fixed so you can’t produce more kids.No choice in the matter.Enrollment to welfare programs stops IMMEDIATELY.When you reach your 4th year of sponging you’re done with the handouts FOREVER and this is RETRO to 1-1-1900.No marches,no big named speakers i.e. Jesse,Al,Bamma etc. because they can be shipped out as easy as you can.Don’t like it well here’s a one way ticket back to the land of your ancestors.

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