Data Tracker

Social service spending again a major theme in California budget talks

In 2012, children hold signs at a rally opposing proposed cuts to the state’s CalWORKs program. Recent budget seasons have included repeated calls to increase spending on social services programs that were cut during the recession.
In 2012, children hold signs at a rally opposing proposed cuts to the state’s CalWORKs program. Recent budget seasons have included repeated calls to increase spending on social services programs that were cut during the recession. Sacramento Bee file

When California lawmakers grappled with closing enormous budget shortfalls in 2009 and 2010, one social service program after another went on the chopping block.

Cost-of-living adjustments for welfare grants, mostly frozen in earlier budgets, disappeared from state law altogether. The number of subsidized child care slots decreased. Elderly and disabled participants in home care programs saw their service hours reduced, and other programs experienced similar cuts.

With state revenue much improved in recent years, advocates for the poor and allies in the Legislature have set out to restore past cuts. They also have made the case for new programs meant to address the state’s high poverty rate and other concerns.

Social services will again be a major theme after Gov. Jerry Brown releases his revised spending plan Friday. The document, which will reflect updated revenue forecasts, formally kicks off weeks of talks leading up to the June 15 deadline to pass a budget and the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

Since returning to the statehouse, Brown generally has resisted calls to spend significantly more on social services and other programs, although recent packages have featured some increases.

His revised budget last May included a new tax credit for the poor that became part of the final package, as did additional slots for state-funded child care. Legislation to expand a tax on health plans included more than $300 million in new state money for serving people with developmental disabilities.

Brown’s January proposal included a one-time increase in the grants for individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment checks, to a maximum grant of $906. Couples would get a maximum grant of $1,526. But those amounts compare to $870 and $1,524, respectively, in 2007-08, meaning that today’s checks would be worth less after adjusting for inflation.

Typical CalWORKs grants are lower than they were during the recession. For example, a CalWORKS grant for a family of three in a high-cost county was $723 in 2007-08. The $704 grant proposed for 2016-17 is worth about $114 less in inflation-adjusted dollars.

 

Democrats and CalWORKs participants also want the next budget to abolish a state rule that prohibits increases in assistance for any child born into a family that had been receiving aid for at least the 10 previous months. Eliminating the maximum family grant rule would cost about $220 million when fully implemented, with an Assembly budget panel recently putting forward a plan to minimize the cost to the general fund.

A social program that has seen notable funding increases since the recession is In-Home Supportive Services, which serves about 490,000 elderly, blind or disabled participants.

The budget approved last June restored a 7 percent reduction in service hours. In addition, the state has included more money to pay overtime to home care providers to comply with federal labor rules. And under recent legislation phasing in a $15 statewide minimum wage, home care providers can earn three days sick leave.

 

The Sacramento Bee’s Data Tracker is a weekly feature that offers a deeper look at the numbers behind today’s news. Jim Miller: 916-326-5521, @jimmiller2

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