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Leigh Hart: Don't cut services to those who need them most

Posted: June 1, 2009 10:01 p.m.
Updated: June 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Most of my newspapers have been piling up lately, securely banded, wrapped and unread.

Not eager to plow through the continuing saga of economic distress or the political footballs thrown by opposing parties, I've found myself ignoring what used to be my wakeup call each day.

Alas, writing a political piece requires being informed, so why not check out the latest chapter in California's economic conundrum?

Front-page center I read of Governor Schwarzenegger's possible plans for closing California's deficit (as high as $24 billion according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst).

Belt-tightening is in order and as one who voted against the recently defeated propositions to offset the state's fiscal crisis, I'm open to our representatives making cuts across the board.

What I am not willing to support is the possible dismantling of several programs that support poor families, struggling college students, or health benefits for children of working families - all being considered by the governor.

Those at the bottom of the economic ladder are generally the most vulnerable; their voices are too often lost in the social/political discussion - misrepresented or unheard.

Unfortunately, according to news reports, Schwarzenegger is eyeing the state's Cal Works program in a desperate move to balance the state's budget.

Cal Works serves more than 500,000 families with children who qualify for state assistance.

It offers an essential service to families who are underemployed or unemployed and provides not only money but also essential services that help the employment opportunities for the adults in the family.

Since 1998, when President Clinton worked with a Republican Congress and changed the way "entitlement" programs worked throughout the country, Cal Works has endeavored to support families in need, while recognizing the "responsibility" ingredient.

That is why adults with children enrolled in the Cal Works program have five years of eligibility.

When the adults are "timed out," only the children are considered in the financial support formula.

What is most disturbing to me is that Schwarzenegger's cuts to Cal Works would end the financial support to children.

As a parent and teacher, I believe that society has a responsibility to support the health of all children.

I have no problem questioning the choices of adults who are ill-prepared to be parents, but I will never support a policy that hurts the vulnerable and the innocent.

Lucky for me, I have a dear friend, Karen, who happens to be an Employment Services Supervisor for the county of San Luis Obispo.

After talking to her, I wish that Los Angeles County's social service program was as up to date as San Luis Obispo's.

Karen gave me a clear and concise picture of what Cal Works is, how it came to be, and what some of the current proposals may be.

Rest assured, dear taxpayers, she is one civil servant who earns every penny she receives.

For starters, Cal Works is not a simple entitlement program. It focuses on families in need. Social service workers in each county assess families and determine what the adults in the family need to attain gainful employment.

The unemployed adults may require employment workshop services that assess skills and barriers to employment.

The eligible recipients often need additional education or job training. Some adults may also need health care (physical, mental health or substance abuse).

The bottom line is this: Adults who are eligible for Cal Works have five years of eligibility.

Every county in California offers Cal Works, Medi-Cal, food stamps and so forth, but each county differs in how it implements the services.

I asked Karen about Cal Works eligibility. Guess what? Illegal residents and felons (even those convicted of drug abuse) are not eligible.

Illegal residents who are pregnant can get MediCal, but in the long run, providing health services is not only ethically right but cost-effective.

If the governor wants to close the budget gap, might I suggest that he take a look at expenses other than Cal Works, college grants or health insurance to the children of the working class.

If the governor must cut, let's look at the prison industry, the countless boards that employ termed-out congressional leaders, the textbook rip-offs and testing costs in public schools, the financial perks of elected employees, or the amount of money paid to companies contracted to the state.

The most vulnerable families in California need our voice - let's not abandon them.

Leigh Hart is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among several local Democratic activists.


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