Amidst uncertainty, LA County plans how to spend $30 billion

L.A. County CEO Sachi Hamai said the county is expecting cuts to federal and state revenue in the coming fiscal year.
L.A. County CEO Sachi Hamai said the county is expecting cuts to federal and state revenue in the coming fiscal year.
Rina Palta / KPCC

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Los Angeles County, facing cuts in federal and state funds, will focus on beefing up social services like child welfare and mental health care in the coming year, as well as investing in infrastructure like a new county jail. 

L.A. County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai released a preliminary spending plan for the county's $30 billion budget Monday. But at a press conference, she acknowledged the budget may change as further details emerge from Washington D.C. and Sacramento on whether proposed federal and state cuts will go through.

It "puts us in an unusual predicament," Hamai said. County departments, she said, are already thinking about what might get cut and how to make up for any lost funds.

L.A. County gets about 23 percent of its money from the state and 17 percent from the federal government. While federal cuts to things like affordable housing funds, rent subsidies, and neighborhood improvement dollars would have a major impact, Hamai said it's too early in the federal budget process to know if President Donald Trump's proposal to cut $54 million from non-defense spending will get Congressional approval. 

The state, meanwhile, has plans to shift some costs to the county for In-Home Supportive Services, which provide services to low-income elderly, blind, and disabled to help them stay in their home and out of institutional care. For L.A., that would mean about $220 million. 

Hamai said local officials are in negotiations with the state over specifics.

In the meantime, the county is proceeding as if the federal and state funds it usually receives will come through. The proposed budget calls for $30 billion in spending, roughly the same as the previous fiscal year. 

New investments include about $45 million for hiring 220 new social workers and 107 support staff for the Department of Children and Family Services. Hamai said that would bring caseloads for child welfare workers down to an average of 19 from 21. An additional $32.3 million would go to trainings and support services for foster parents, as well as mental health case for children.

"I think it's a step in the right direction, but we have a ways to go," said David Green, a child social worker at DCFS and member of the executive board of SEIU 721, which represents social workers. "It's not going to solve the issues we have around caseload."

The union is advocating for social workers to have a caseload closer to 15 children each. 

Another target area for the county is criminal justice reform. The proposed budget would invest nearly $100 million jail diversion and reentry programs, attorneys for juveniles accused of crimes, and staff for the civilian commission tasked with overseeing the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Infrastructure projects also make up a significant chunk of the budget, with about $1.1 billion proposed for a variety of projects, including funds towards replacing Men's Central Jail with a new facility, $109 million for soil and groundwater remediation and monitoring at county-owned sites.

Homelessness is also a key priority for the county. L.A. voters approved Measure H, a sales tax hike to fund homeless services in March. Details on how the expected $355 million in revenue will be spent are getting hashed out still. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on a plan in June. They'll vote on a final overall budget that month as well. 

Officials said further adjustments would come as the federal and state budget processes unfold. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to release a revised budget for the coming fiscal year next month. That's also when President Donald Trump is expected to release a more detailed proposal for federal cuts.