Budget Hearing Warns State's Neediest May Suffer from Federal Deficit Reduction

September 30, 2011

SACRAMENTO – Experts testifying at a Legislative hearing agreed that cuts in federal funding to California safety net programs seem likely, yet would have dire effects on the state's neediest residents.

Following Thursday's Informational Hearing on Federal Deficit Reduction and Potential Budget Impacts on California Health and Human Services Programs held in the state Capitol by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health & Human Services, the subcommittee's chair, Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), warned that, Given massive cuts to California's health and social services programs to balance our own budget this year, the Congressional Super Committee needs to know that California can't absorb more cuts for the sake of reducing the federal deficit.

The so-called Super Committee, consisting of six U.S. senators and six members of the House evenly apportioned by party, was created by law in August as a compromise between the White House and Congress to end an impasse over extension of the federal debt ceiling. By November 23, the Super Committee is to recommend ways to reduce the federal deficit by up to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. If the Committee fails to submit recommendations or Congress fails to adopt them, mandated cuts are triggered, 50% coming from federal domestic programs and 50% from military spending. Most discussion of the reductions has focused on federal spending cuts rather than increasing revenues because it is expected that cuts are more likely to be acceptable than tax increases to the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

What was once unthinkable is the new normal, declared Vanessa Cajina of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, referring to the prospect of yet more cuts in California's safety net programs.

Outlining how such cuts would probably devastate health care and other safety net assistance to vulnerable Californians, most of the panelists urged California to recommend alternatives to significant cuts to Congressional decision-makers, including revenue options. They attested to the contribution the nation's largest state makes to federal coffers and the critical importance of the per capita dollars California receives to help its own residents. Todd Bland of the Legislative Analyst's Office testified that $330 billion in federal funds come into California yearly, $79 billion of which is expended by state agencies, including more than $40 billion by Health and Human Services. Jean Ross form the California Budget Project estimated that current proposals could mean 57,000 California children would not receive food through the federal WIC program, 10,000 fewer children might be enrolled in Head Start and a 17% cut in community development block grants could ensue. Cuts such as these would be in addition to those the state has already had to make, including $11 billion diverted to eliminate this year's deficit.

Government exists because it has an indispensable role to play, Mitchell objected. We should be moving to strengthen our social safety net; educate and foster opportunity for all our children; ensure public safety; protect the environment and partner to create and maintain jobs.

Reflecting the tenor of the hearing testimony, Mitchell summarized the recommendations to California's Congressional Delegation which she hopes would guide the Super Committee's decisions:

  • Protect children and the most vulnerable from bearing a disproportionate burden for deficit reduction
  • Foster economic recovery and jobs until our recovery is stable and unemployment is decreasing or we risk deepening the deficit in the long term
  • State and local government cannot absorb additional costs
  • Increase revenue significantly, particularly from those that can best afford to pay and avoid further burdening those who can't
  • Make smart reforms not wholesale cuts to our health and human services programs.

We have a right and responsibility to tell Congress what matters to us and to hold it accountable for heeding our voices, Mitchell concluded. If that government is best which is closest to the people, it is time for Sacramento to tell Washington what makes the Golden West shine: Here, we link arms and stride into the future together. Even now.

Panelists who testified at the hearing were:

  1. Edwin Park, Vice President for Health Policy, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities
  2. Jean Ross, Executive Director, California Budget Project
  3. Vanessa Cajina, Legislative Advocate, Western Center on Law & Poverty
  4. Anthony Wright, Executive Director, Health Access
  5. Gary Passmore, Director, Congress of California Seniors
  6. Deborah Doctor, Legislative Advocate, Disability Rights California
  7. Nicette Short, Senior Associate, Health Policy, Children Now, 100% Campaign
  8. Frank Mecca, Executive Director, County Welfare Directors Association
  9. Todd Bland, Director, Social Services Office of the Legislative Analyst
  10. Kristin Shelton, Principal Program Budget Analyst California Department of Finance

Contact: Charles Stewart, 310/342-1070

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