Governor’s revised budget provides relief from potential county service cuts

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

A program to provide in-home care for elderly and disabled Californians is at the center of a budget issue that nearly threatened to reduce health and law enforcement services across the state, including here in Orange County.

The In-Home Supportive Services Program, or IHSS, allows elderly and disabled low-income residents to stay in their homes by providing pay for their in-home caregivers. Most agree that ultimately, the program is a superior alternative to state-funded nursing homes or emergency rooms, saving the public money and providing a better life for those who need support because they can receive the care they need while remaining in their own homes.

Since 2012, counties and the state of California have had an agreement dictating how costs to administer the program would be split up. And since 2012, the state has also expanded access to the program and approved other changes that have increased the cost of the program.

This year, Gov. Jerry Brown decided to dissolve that agreement and shift more of the costs for the IHSS program back to counties.

Initial projections would have been catastrophic. For Orange County, the hit would have been $38 million the first year, and $171 million in the second.

Orange County officials immediately instituted a hiring freeze and asked departments to begin planning for cuts when the initial budget was released.

But counties, labor unions, elected officials and the governor came together during the past several weeks to figure out a solution that wouldn’t eat into public health, law enforcement and other social safety net services we need in our communities.

Our advocacy made a difference.

On Thursday, the governor announced his revised budget, and with it, an agreement that would spare county budgets for the next 2-4 years from the massive hole shifting this program would cause. This is a huge short-term relief to counties, like Orange, which this week announced a balanced budget for fiscal year 2016-17, but was holding on to a backup budget that reflected deep cuts to public safety and community services — the very services that are keeping families together and off the streets, addressing homelessness in our communities and addressing the mental health crisis in Orange County.

Why does this matter?

While Orange County has a reputation for its wealthy residents, beaches and theme parks, the reality is that one in three residents of our community receive social services. One in four use publicly funded medical services, and one in five live in poverty.

In other words, cuts to numbers on paper threaten programs that keep people alive, families together, and our streets safe.

This agreement represents progress toward protecting those important values. But it’s not over. During the next three years, we must demonstrate the same creativity and collaboration to identify a long-term way to fund this important program that doesn’t eat away at other services aimed at keeping our communities safe and healthy.

Today, we thank Gov. Brown for providing the space and time to be able to work out those solutions together.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: May 12, 2017