Assembly Hearing Laments a Torn Safety Net

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

It's not just the 10% payment cut to a range of Medi-Cal services in California that have legislators and providers lining up in protest, according to Assembly member Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), it's the combined effect of all the cuts that came before as well.

"We are here to hear and understand the actual impact of the cuts we made this year," Mitchell said yesterday at a hearing convened by Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services. "And we also need to hear the cumulative impacts of cuts from previous years," she said. "This economic crisis has hit our children very hard, and we need to hear what these cuts will do to those children."

Down the street from the Capitol Building hearing, protesters representing the developmentally disabled gathered outside the offices of the Department of Health Care Services, the agency implementing the state's cuts and that worked with CMS to get federal approval of the cutbacks.

The state is currently in the midst of a lawsuit with advocates for the developmentally disabled over an earlier DHCS move to freeze reimbursement rates for intermediate care facilities. A federal judge ruled against the state in May, and that case is still in court.

It's not the only court case for DHCS. The California Hospital Association filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in federal court against the implementation of a 10% provider reimbursement cut.

In addition, DHCS officials will be in court today to try to settle a different court case involving adult day health care services. The court hearing on that lawsuit was put off another week, and will now be heard on Nov. 15 if a settlement can't be reached before then.

At the Assembly budget hearing, legislators listened to testimony that one in four California children now lives in poverty. More cuts to the CalWORKs program will sink those children further into destitution, advocates said.

Assembly member Wesley Chesbro (D-Santa Rosa) summed it up this way:

"One of my big problems with all of this is that we're now talking about programs that save money," Chesbro said. "All of these -- IHSS [In-Home Supportive Services], ADHC, CalWORKs -- these are all programs that not only make people safe, but they're also designed to save costs."

Chesbro lifted his hands in disbelief. "This is how far we've sunk, really," he said, "that we're focusing on programs that are supposed to be part of the solution to the problem."

There were two proposals in the hearing to help CalWORKs beneficiaries (beyond finding more money for it and for similar programs). The first was to focus on collaboration with employers and workforce agencies to help people find jobs. The second was to expand subsidized employment programs, especially at the local level.

"The amount of money these families [below the poverty level] get is shockingly meager," Mitchell said.


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