Brown's budget further frays social safety net

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Gov. Jerry Brown walks with advisors to a press conference about his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on Jan. 10, 2011 in Sacramento.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget cuts $12.5 billion in spending. Under the plan, California’s social safety net takes a big hit. People who provide those services, and people who use them, are worried.

In the hallway outside the governor’s pressroom, amid the cacophony of state legislators, political activists and reporters, Chrissy Moda, stands quietly behind a wheelchair.

"I’m my husband’s care provider. The budget cuts could affect us greatly,” she says.

An injury to her husband 15 years ago left him without the use of his legs. The state helps pay Moda $10.50 an hour to care for him as an in-home supportive services worker. The idea is to keep Marcelo at home, where he’s more comfortable, and out of an expensive nursing facility.

Under Governor Brown’s budget, Moda’s would see an 8.5 percent pay cut. That’s on top of a 3.6 percent cut last year. Other cuts would hurt too, say Moda

"There are Social Security budget cuts. We’re already low-income," she says. "Rents are so high.
Food is so high. So how can we afford to pay the bills? How can we afford to pay the rent? We can’t.”

In California, there are 370,000 in-home supportive services workers. Some are family members. Most are not.

As executive director of the Personal Assistance Services Council of Los Angeles County, Greg Thompson oversees a program involving more than 150,000 home care workers. He says they play an important role in the lives of the disabled and elderly.

“They let them maintain their basic rights and freedoms to live in the community and not be institutionalized," says Thompson.

Other budget cuts would hurt seniors, too. Nan Brasmer of the California Alliance for Retired Americans says Brown wants to close adult daycare centers.

“It’s the only place many families have for respite for their loved one who might have Alzheimer’s or totally disabled person," Brasmer says. "It gives them a positive atmosphere to be in.”

The Western Center on Law and Poverty says the governor’s budget would cut $1.7 billion in Medi-Cal spending and $1.5 billion in the CalWORKS welfare-to-work program.

While many activists decry the proposed cuts in social services, they may not find much support from their traditional Democratic allies. Faced with a $25 billion deficit, many Democrats legislators say the cut are necessary.

Brasmer disagrees. She says the Democrats should role back Proposition 13 and its limits on commercial property taxes.

“I would go after the corporate loopholes that were in Prop 13," she says. "Tax Chevron Oil Company, who is not paying much in the way of taxes now.”

Brown has chosen to steer clear of Proposition 13 in his first budget. He knows the firestorm it would bring.

Instead, he's asked the state legislature to place on the ballot a measure that would extend tax increases for another five years. With the increases, deep cuts are still necessary, he says.

For now, he’s put off any fundamental changes to a tax structure many argue is in desperate need of reform.

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