Friday, February 19, 2010

Plugging the Holes in the California Lifeboat

I met today in my District Office with local advocates for the Children’s Health Initiative. They came armed with some alarming numbers: If the Healthy Families program is eliminated, as proposed by the governor within the 2010-2011 budget, 80,769 children in the County of Riverside will lose their state-subsidized health care, 69,703 in San Bernardino County, 26,687 in Kern County, 23,076 in Fresno County, 80,451 in San Diego County, 90,143 in Orange County, and 242,660 in LA County. Further information available here.

Multiply this by the millions of Californians affected by the unraveling of our state, and you will start to get the picture of the carnage that is being wreaked by the governor’s proposals to address California’s deficit. Well-meaning advocates plead their cases for various important programs proposed for closure or cuts by the governor: each asking that their program be given priority: Healthy Families, CalWORKS, CalGrants, K-12 education, UC students, CSU students, community colleges, game wardens, state parks, public transit, MediCal, community medical clinics, rural hospitals, Every Woman Counts, inter-city rail, family planning, women’s health care, domestic violence shelters, the Williamson Act, firefighting services, local police departments, CHP, HIV/AIDS, local streets and roads, adult day health care, In Home Supportive Services, Black Infant Health, child care, “optional” Medi-Cal treatments such as dental, podiatry, and vision—and the list goes on and on….

When the impacts of the current recession are factored in, over 17% of Californians are expected to be living in poverty. Twenty percent of African-American Californians live in poverty. Poverty rates in certain counties are very high: 19% of Kern County residents live in poverty; 20% of Tulare County residents live in poverty. In Los Angeles, the poverty rate is 15%. For children, the rates are even higher: in Fresno County, 37.3% of children live in poverty. In San Bernardino County, 20.6% of children live in poverty. Overall, nearly 20% of California’s children lived in poverty in 2008, the last year for which data is available. Due to the recent recession, continued increased unemployment rate, and ongoing mortgage foreclosures, that number has surely soared.

Meanwhile, billions of dollars in new corporate tax giveaways are scheduled to go into effect next summer. The governor threatens to veto legislation aimed at tax cheats and tax avoiders. Last year, billionaire tobacco and oil companies ran mail and telephone campaigns opposing even small tax levies on their products to balance the budget. Anthem Blue Cross not only opposes federal health care reform which would solve the biggest part of our state deficit, but it threatens premium increases of 39%.

For the advocates I met with today, and the many like them who work daily to provide basic services to Californians, the message is simple but bleak: we all need to realize that a terrible change is happening here in our state. Our long-time, unified commitment to a basic standard of living and equal opportunity for all Californians is being torn apart. While we face unprecedented levels of debt and deficit, it should be possible for all of us to join together to find solutions that protect the least among us and that keep our fundamentals intact, allowing us to weather this crisis together as a community. Instead, the Governor and his kind use this crisis to drive a wedge between Californians to divide us along economic lines. They would use this crisis to drive more Californians further into poverty, while enriching those at the very top.

Those of us who continue to believe in California’s historic commitment to a common purpose would share the sacrifices while we work toward a better future for all. Last year at this time, our commitment held—we rejected the governor’s proposed shut-down of state services and put everything on life support, funded at minimal levels. We must continue to fight those who would force the poorest and most vulnerable among us to bear the burdens of this recession and do the same this year. We must keep our eye on a collective better future by continuing to invest in public education and providing the most basic care to our children, our elderly, and the disabled in our communities until California pulls out of this recession and we can all do better. No one should be left behind or thrown off our lifeboat.