Jewish service agencies call budget a real terminator

These days, Anita Friedman feels as if Arnold Schwarzenegger has his hands in her pockets.

Glancing at the governor’s proposed budget cuts of around $2.7 billion in health and human services, the executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services sums it up in two words: “a disaster.”

“It’s a humanitarian issue, but there’s also an economic cost to not caring about people who become vulnerable and dependent. We don’t want to look like Bangladesh,” she said.

The proposed cuts hit JFCS from all sides. In addition to slashing the funds that, directly or indirectly, are paid to JFCS by the state, county or cities, a planned 10 percent reduction in Medi-Cal benefits would wither the JFCS’ ability to provide for its clients.

With more and more doctors unable or unwilling to accept Medi-Cal — whose enrollment may be capped, while its covered benefits are reduced and co-pays are hiked — Friedman predicts a boom in demand for JFCS’ services.

But, with stripped-down funding and the inability to be fully compensated for Medi-Cal claims, Friedman foresees more and more needy clients being shunted to overcrowded county hospitals, creating an almost Dickensian situation.

“We won’t have anywhere to get health care for our clients. We’ll have to cut out a lot of optional benefits, like mental health, dental or prosthetic devices,” Friedman continued.

Across the Bay, a worried Ted Feldman, executive director of JFCS of the East Bay, rattles off the sorts of programs he fears will be whittled away to uselessness: Mental health therapy, anger management for low-income families, spousal- and child-abuse prevention and programs aimed at assisting low-income seniors.

Schwarzenegger released his list of proposed cuts in January. The state will adopt an official budget in August.

The slashing and burning of social support programs is also a nightmare for Abby Snay, executive director of Jewish Vocational Services in San Francisco.

In addition to direct cuts to JVS employment and training services, under the proposed budget job-seekers will have to make do without child care, low-income subsidies or mental health counseling.

“We’re looking at cuts from an already reduced level … We were cutting into muscle before; this is bone,” she said.

Like Friedman, Snay presents a chilling scenario, saying individuals who are now coming to JVS as clients could have been “potential donors” in past years.

She’s seeing “people who have had high-level management positions and technical positions. And people who have owned businesses and lost them.”

Many of the governor’s proposed moves simply don’t make much sense to Friedman in the short- or long run.

For example, a proposed one-year moratorium on licensing new adult day health care centers will save the state $15,000 for every senior who won’t be cared for in one, noted Friedman.

But, she continued, those seniors will probably be sent to nursing facilities that will cost the state $50,000 a head.

“A cut to that is actually penny-wise, pound-foolish,” she said.

Incidentally, facilities such as the Jewish Home in San Francisco and the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville are not facing imminent cutbacks, as the proposed budget cuts will not affect long-term care facilities.

Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco will not be touched either, as it is entirely privately funded.

“I think we’re safe for the new fiscal year,” said Suzanne Sloane, Reutlinger’s administrator.

H.D. Palmer, the deputy director of external affairs at the state’s department of finance, said the cuts are tough but necessary, and added the budget mess is a situation that Schwarzenegger did not create.

“The governor came into office inheriting a messy budget legacy from his predecessor and the legislature. We have to close a structural deficit next year of more than $14 billion,” he said.

Friedman and Snay said they and other social services providers will participate in a massive lobbying campaign prior to the state’s August budget deadline.

Without services like those provided by JFCS, clients “will be left without help,” said Feldman.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.