The California Partnership

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Posted on Wed, Dec. 03, 2003

San Jose Mercury News
Cruel cuts: So much for promises on kids

By Rebecca Vilkomerson

On the campaign trail, Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to protect the children of California. He also promised to end politics as usual. The cruel cuts he proposed just before Thanksgiving prove that he intends to keep neither of these promises.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has repeatedly declared that his administration will be all about ``action,'' and these proposals certainly have a lot of that: 100,000 of our poorest families, including half a million kids, would have $35 less a month for basic needs.

If you include his other proposal to not give folks on welfare a cost-of-living adjustment that by law should have kicked in when the vehicle license fee was repealed, it becomes $60 less per month. How many families can raise healthy children on $669 a month? According to the California Budget Project, this grant level will leave these families with incomes of 52 percent of the poverty level, making it difficult to provide basic necessities like food and rent. More families will become homeless if this proposal is implemented.

Schwarzenegger has also proposed repealing a law passed last year that made it easier for folks with cars to receive food stamps. Especially for families in rural and suburban areas, cars are often a lifeline to jobs. However, many of those jobs are so low-paying that folks need food stamps to make ends meet. By repealing this law, Schwarzenegger is both doing an end run around the legislative process and making it harder for families to get enough to eat.

Additionally, Schwarzenegger, an immigrant himself, wants to cap the number of legal immigrants who can turn to welfare when they need it, as well as cap the number of kids and adults who qualify for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. Health Access estimates that 100,000 children would lose access to health care in the next year alone.

Punishing the poorest kids and their parents to balance the budget is very much politics as usual. Every administration since Jerry Brown has attempted to do the same.

Gov. Gray Davis proposed some similar cuts last year, but the Legislature defeated them. Schwarzenegger merely takes it to a new level by cutting even deeper into programs essential to the health and well-being of children.

Do we really want to be a state that balances its budget on the backs of poor children? Setting aside right or wrong, does it make fiscal sense? After all, if you deny people health care they will merely show up in our already overtaxed emergency rooms, even sicker and more expensive to treat than they would be if they had access to preventive care. Maintaining a family in an emergency shelter is much more expensive than assisting with their rent.

These calculations, of course, do not even begin to measure the human cost of being uninsured, homeless or hungry.

We can only hope that the Legislature will show the compassion and farsightedness that so far our new governor seems to lack and will stand firm to protect California's kids.

REBECCA VILKOMERSON is the program director of the California Partnership, a statewide coalition of community organizations that fight poverty in California ( She wrote this column for the Mercury News.

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