State cuts put more Stanislaus County programs in danger
By Garth Stapley
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011
State "trigger cuts" could cost Stanislaus County government nearly $9 million in local services, many related to home care and juvenile justice.
Anticipated January hits to education funding have grabbed headlines since Gov. Jerry Brown announced a $980 million package of midyear reductions triggered once fiscal officials determined that California would fall $2.2 billion short in revenues this year.
A review of anticipated effects on the 26 county departments reveals many other vulnerable areas, from literacy to child abuse prosecutions to pharmacy co-payments required of poor people relying on government health care.
In-Home Supportive Services stands to lose the most in this county. About 4,600 people providing home care to 6,200 elderly or disabled recipients would lose 20 percent of wages in statewide, across-the-board reductions, amounting to $4.4 million in the county.
Care providers and recipients mobilized protests last year when county officials proposed reducing pay from $9.38 an hour to the $8 minimum wage. The county backed off until a contract expires in summer.
A judge issued a temporary restraining order on home care trigger cuts, meaning wages will stay the same pending the outcome of a court battle.
If the state wins, providers could appeal cuts individually, meaning "varying impacts on financial projections, most likely lessening any cut significantly when it all plays out," said Christine Applegate, director of the county's Community Services Agency.
Protests a few months ago focused on fraud investigations largely funded by a state grant to be eliminated in January trigger cuts. Authorities said investigators detected fraud in 65 percent of 444 probes last year and saved an estimated $1.2 million, but providers and recipients complained of heavy-handed tactics.
On Tuesday, Robert Adams, a paraplegic, approached county supervisors in a wheelchair during an open comment portion of the meeting and said he and his family had been terrorized that day by pounding at the door.
"I felt violated," Adams said. "It's already difficult for me to live day to day."
His sister, Linda Adams, said, "It was traumatic. Where are your boundaries? Is this what we have to endure?"
Supervisors knew funding was on shaky ground when they voted in October to keep the fraud unit going by accepting a $410,800 grant and promising an extra $62,400 of local money, enough for two investigators and a technician.
Trigger cuts are expected to eliminate In-Home Supportive Services fraud programs up and down the state, saving $10 million.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager says about $300,000 in state money is in jeopardy for two prosecutors and an investigator assigned to child abuse, career criminal and major narcotics cases.
"Obviously, we can't stop prosecuting those cases just because we lose that dedicated funding," said Fladager, who has lost several positions in budget cuts over the past couple of years. "This is a significant hit to our budget, and we are relying on earlier salary savings that we were able to roll over from last year in order to make ends meet."
The county's 13 libraries depend on a sales tax surcharge approved by voters for the lion's share of their money. What little comes from the state — about $183,000 — is going away with trigger cuts, including $134,900 for literacy programs. State support for the 45-year-old Library Cooperative, enabling members from various counties to share resources and training — amounting to $50,700 for Stanislaus — is eliminated as well.
The county's probation department, which runs Juvenile Hall, faces the predicament of 23 "worst of the worse" young inmates returning from state lockups, with no place to put them, or paying the state $2.9 million to continue housing them.
The payment represents $125,000 per youth, previously covered by the state. Crews are building a $22.7 million facility with maximum-security wings next to the old one but it won't be done until summer 2013.
Trigger cuts also envision the county collecting about $300,000 in pharmacy co-pays; the state would short the county that amount in reimbursements. But county officials figure they will be cheated out of about 5 percent in uncollectable bad debt, or $15,000 to $30,000.
A report on trigger cut effects says it's not clear how the state intends to implement child care reductions; a $715,000 program is on the chopping block in Stanislaus County.