Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Governor Avoids Responsibility for Cutting Every Woman Counts

Instead of spending its time and energy finding ways to save the Every Woman Counts program, Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration spins a red herring to deflect attention from his Grinch-like cuts during the holidays.

As usual, the Administration points blame at the Legislature. In a letter to me, the Department of Public Health (DPH) erroneously claims the Budget Conference Committee, which I chaired, approved its proposal to reduce program eligibility and included it in the 2009-10 Budget. DPH immediately provided its letter to media in my home town of Santa Rosa. The Department’s letter and my response are both available here.

The problem is that letter’s claim is patently false. So, let’s set the record straight.

The Legislature specifically refused granting authority to DPH to take these actions. DPH’s proposal to increase the age of eligibility to 50 was never adopted by the Conference Committee and was not included in the 2009-10 Budget. Nor did DPH ever make a proposal to Conference Committee to cut off new enrollment in the program.

During 2008, Every Woman Counts began running a deficit. Several legislators believed DPH had mismanaged the program, so DPH decided not to pursue mid-year legislation to resolve the deficiency. Instead, DPH submitted a request to fund the deficiency in its 2009-10 Finance Letter submitted to the Budget Conference Committee. In the letter, DPH requested an appropriation of $9.3 million for the mid-year deficiency, as well as legislative authority to make other changes to the program, including increasing the age of enrollment to 50. And, again, cutting off new enrollment as of January 1, 2010 was not mentioned.

As Chair of Conference Committee, I supported the $9.3 million in deficiency funding to keep the program alive and placed that item on the Committee agenda. However, I did not support the other changes requested by DPH and did not agendize or act on them. See page 77 of this conference agenda. When DPH tried to raise these changes at the Conference Committee hearing, they were told in no uncertain terms to find another way.

Contrary to the Schwarzenegger Administration’s claims, Conference Committee only adopted the $9.3 million in deficiency funding. The Legislature never considered, voted on or authorized the remaining proposals. Without legislative authorization, DPH made made these changes anyway. The Legislature learned of the administration’s action by press release on December 2. We held a press conference in protest.

Please, Governor Schwarzenegger, take responsibility for your administration’s actions. If you don’t want to make these cuts, then don’t make them. But don’t try to hide behind the Legislature which refused to authorize your actions. Early in the new year, I plan to hold a budget committee hearing on this issue. Every woman should count in this state, regardless of income.