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Governor’s Budget Targets Aged & Disabled
Governor Davis released his mid-year spending reduction proposals in December 2002. These proposed cuts, if enacted, would go into effect in April 2003. California's legislature is currently debating the mid-year budget and, to date, no agreement has been reached as to what cuts or what new taxes will be imposed.
In January 2003, the Governor released his 2003-2004 budget proposal, which included additional substantial cuts in state programs and services. To meet the constitutional deadline for passage of this budget, the 2003-04 Budget Bill must be passed by June 15, 2003. Needless to say, this deadline is unlikely to be met.
While some may disagree as to the size of California's budget deficit −is it $36 billion or $21 billion? − all agree that corrective actions in the form of budget cuts or tax increases or a combination of both will be necessary to balance the budget in the coming years.
There are good reasons to question some of the Governor's priorities. California has the largest per capita prison population in the country, paying an average of $26,000 per year for each prisoner, many serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses. It's no coincidence that the Governor's budget retains the multi-million dollar allocation for yet another prison, when the union representing the prison guards was one of the largest contributors to his campaign fund.
Nevertheless, some increased taxes are inevitable if we want to retain the level of services we depend on. Few citizens like the idea of paying yet more taxes. However, if we choose not to pay more, we need to start asking ourselves some difficult questions. What services are we willing to give up? Who are we willing to sacrifice? Are we willing to sacrifice health care for our children and our parents? Can our education system get any worse? Are we prepared to pay the future price for a devastated health care system?
Cuts That Kill
Following is a summary of some of the cuts that the Governor is proposing just in the area of health care and services for the aged and disabled.
Medi-Cal Reimbursement Rates
Between the mid-year proposal and the 2003-04 budget proposal, a 15% cut in provider rates is proposed. This would mean, for example, that a California nursing home that receives $114 per day to care for a Medi-Cal resident would receive $97 per day. It would also mean decreased access to Medi-Cal beds for the 64% of California nursing home residents who receive Medi-Cal. It would mean cut backs in staffing, dietary services and other services at a time when nursing home costs have risen substantially and staffing levels are already dangerously low. With the exception of the for-profit chains, few facilities can absorb these cuts.
Elimination of 18 Optional Services
Except for children under 21 and long term care beneficiaries, the proposed cuts would eliminate the following Medi-Cal services for all beneficiaries: dental services, medical supplies, podiatry, acupuncture, chiropractic services, psychology, independent rehabilitation centers, occupational therapy, hospice care, non-emergency medical transportation, optometry, physical therapy, prosthetics, orthotics, speech/audiology, hearing aids and durable medical equipment. Thus, in lieu of providing preventative services, Medi-Cal will force beneficiaries into nursing homes sooner'at a much higher cost.
Reduction of SSI/SSP Grants
The Governor proposes to reduce the SSI/SSP grants from $757 to $708 for an individual and $1,344 to $1,225 for a couple.
Elimination of Medi-Cal Aged, Blind and Disabled Program
Approximately 26,000 aged, blind and disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries can currently receive Medi-Cal with no share of cost if their income is at or below $989. The Governor's proposal would essentially eliminate this program by reducing the eligibility income limit to the SSI/SSP level, i.e., to $708. This would mean that a disabled person whose income is $900 per month would have to pay a share of cost of approximately $172 per month before Medi-Cal will cover any costs. These people can once again look forward to choosing between buying food or getting their prescriptions filled.
Elimination of Annual Surveys of Residential Care Facilities
Currently the Department of Social Services licenses and conducts annual surveys of adoption agencies, foster care homes, group homes, adult residential care facilities and residential care facilities for the elderly. The Governor proposes elimination of the annual survey of these facilities and to "prioritize inspections of high-risk facilities."
The problem, of course, is that there is no way of identifying a "high-risk" facility if there is no inspection of the facility. The 6,200+ residential care facilities for the elderly licensees will be the only beneficiaries of this proposal.
Elimination of Various Programs Serving Elders
The Governor proposes complete elimination of a number of programs, including the Foster Grandparent Program, the Respite Registry Program, which matches respite providers with senior clients, the Senior Companion Program and the Brown Bag Program, which provides surplus food to low-income elders.
What Can You Do?The size and the scope of the proposed cuts will affect every California citizen. You need to be informed and you need to take action by informing your state representatives of your concerns.