Sacramento Bee, May 27, 2008: State cuts to health and social services will hit some hard

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By Judy Lin –
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, May 27, 2008

STOCKTON Age has caught up with the McGriffs.

For the first time in more than 20 years, Harvey McGriff won’t be making all the Stockton Ports baseball games. He suffered a heart attack last Christmas.

His wife, Margo, once politically active in the community, can no longer get off a recliner without help. She’s losing a battle against lung disease.

The fixed-income seniors he’s 76 and she’s 81 could find themselves with little or no assistance on household chores and have a hard time seeing their doctors under revised health and social service cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“That’s the worst thing you can do to seniors,” said JoAnne Carlson, a neighbor who recently popped into the McGriffs’ yellow mobile home. “Margo can’t be without help.”

Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting $3.4 billion from health and social service programs, from a projected budget of $33.2 billion to $29.8 billion. State general fund spending is second only to education.

Low-income families like the McGriffs would be particularly hard hit under the governor’s plan because they receive assistance from different state programs. The couple live off a $1,544 monthly Social Security income, rely on government-sponsored health insurance and stay out of costly nursing homes through an in-home care program each of which has been proposed for reductions by the governor as the state faces a $15.2 billion deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Under his plan, an estimated 84,000 seniors would lose help with daily chores like laundry, cleaning and bathing. Seniors and the blind and disabled would not receive a cost-of-living increase in their Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment Program checks despite rising gas and food prices.

Poor adults would lose basic dental and vision care. Health premiums for children of low-income families would increase by $3 or $4. Legal immigrants would be restricted to emergency health care.

Working poor families would receive 5 percent less in cash assistance. And the average amount given to care for a foster child would drop from $723 per month to $651 starting in October.

Bruce Wagstaff, director of Sacramento County’s department of human assistance, said demand has been going up at county welfare offices as the economy slows. Over the past six months, the number of people needing cash assistance has gone up by 12 percent, Wagstaff said, and the use of food stamps is up by 6 percent.

At the same time, the county is bracing for a difficult budget year.

Advocates say the governor’s budget will have multiple effects on the working poor, abused children and vulnerable seniors and the disabled.

“The magnitude of the cuts to vital human services programs is both staggering and frightening,” said Frank Mecca, director of the County Welfare Directors Association. “The safety net is badly frayed to begin with. This budget would obliterate it.”

The Republican administration doesn’t dispute the severity of the cuts.

“The governor’s been very upfront about this,” said Kim Belsh̩, secretary of the state health and human services agency. “There are no easy reductions . We recognize these proposals are painful.”

Republicans hold to the philosophy that assistance should be temporary. They prefer to eliminate regulations they believe stifle economic growth.

“The best social program is a good-paying job,” said Sen. Bob Dutton, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga who serves on the Senate Budget Committee. “We’ve got a lot of people in need and the money’s not there.”

Democrats, who have gone along with the governor’s earlier request for a 10-percent Medi-Cal reimbursement cut, vow to fight additional cuts.

“If you think about who the governor is targeting, he’s attacking people who earn $8,000 a year. The governor spends that much on a trip home every night,” said Sen. Denise Ducheny, chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

Belsh̩ said the governor recognizes his budget is a process and said “he is anxious to sit down with legislators to restore the state’s fiscal balance.”

Belsh̩ said some cuts were driven by federal requirements. For example, the state is behind in getting more parents to comply with new work requirements, resulting in the potential loss of millions in federal aid.

The secretary said the number of seniors and disabled people using in-home supportive services has doubled in the past 10 years. And with the deficit growing, she said, the agency had no choice but to contain costs.

Meanwhile, recipients like the McGriffs don’t know what would happen if they lost help. Their children have either moved to other states or are busy working and caring for their own families.

Harvey McGriff has worked since he was 11. He spent most of his adult life working as a bootblack, or shoe shiner.

Margo McGriff has worked more jobs than she can remember since World War II. She has helped women lose weight at a Gloria Marshall figure control salon, walked door-to-door selling cable subscriptions and had countless secretarial jobs.

A former smoker, she now suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease obstructing the airways. She said she has lost 30 pounds in the past four weeks.

Clara Maxwell, a longtime friend and neighbor, is one of three aides who is paid to make sure Harvey McGriff gets to the doctor on time and see to it that the McGriffs’ bills get paid. Maxwell, a 69-year-old retired bank worker, said she earned $2,000 last year for helping the McGriffs stay out of a nursing home.

Maxwell said though she receives $9.65 an hour, many hours are voluntary.

“I do what I can for Margot. Sometimes I just sit there holding her hand,” she said.

Margo McGriff said she’s grateful for the help.

“It makes all the difference it the world,” she said. “If we didn’t have this help, we couldn’t make it.”

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