State budget signing doesnt end pinch for Jewish agencies

Jewish organizations across the Bay Area will continue their efforts to slash spending and increase revenue to combat the devastating financial effects from the state’s $144.5 billion budget.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the most overdue budget in California history, Sept. 23, freeing up billions of dollars to reimburse daycare centers, contract vendors, medical clinics and nursing homes.

Local healthcare agencies such as the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services and the Jewish Home of San Francisco each stand to receive a piece of the $3.6 billion owed in Medi-Cal reimbursements. The lingering question is when they will see that money.

“I’m hoping that any day now those payments will come in,” said Sherie Koshover, director of corporate planning with the Home. “Maybe for the New Year, the Jewish Home will see some of the money owed to us. We’ve been operating without that significant source of income.”

The impact of the state budget piles on an additional $3 million to the Jewish Home’s multi-million dollar operating deficit for this fiscal year, while JFCS stands to lose approximately $1 million in government funding for a variety of programs.

The 85-day impasse stemmed from the legislature’s disagreement on how to close the state’s $15.2 billion deficit. The final version of the budget includes $7.1 billion in spending cuts, which includes a 10 percent cut in reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal providers that will remain in effect until Feb. 28, 2009.

As of March 1, the rate reduction and other proposed cuts are expected to be partially restored. Meanwhile, state officials plan to appeal the Aug. 18 decision by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder, who ruled that payments to Medi-Cal providers should to be paid in full.

Schwarzenegger also trimmed an additional $510 million in spending with 73 line-item vetoes. In doing so, $5.5 million in new cuts were made to state programs through which JFCS receives funding, according to Executive Director Anita Friedman.

“We were very surprised, shocked and troubled to see that the governor implemented a round of last-minute cuts to social services,” said Friedman, whose organization serves more than 60,000 people annually.

Several programs offered at JFCS stand to lose state funding, including the Multi-Purpose Senior Services program, which assists frail, low-income seniors; Linkages, which provides case management services for disabled adults; and food programs for the poor and homebound.

The governor also eliminated funding for State Naturalization Services, a program that allows JFCS to provide U.S. citizenship assistance to low-income elderly or disabled legal immigrants.

“The governor was looking to make cuts to any program that was unprotected by legal mandates,” Friedman said. “It underscores the vulnerability of the poor, elderly, disabled and children. They don’t have the same voice as other constituencies and are more vulnerable to being seen as a lower priority.”

The Jewish Home is currently looking for ways to become less financially dependent on the government given the unpredictability of state funding and the widening gap between the facility’s costs and reimbursement rates.

The 10 percent rate reduction to Medi-Cal providers came as distressing news to the Jewish Home’s board of trustees and lay leaders since the Medi-Cal program serves as the Home’s primary source of funding, Koshover said.

“We share relief that the state’s longest-ever budget impasse is behind us,” she said. “We recognize that the fiscal woes are not over. Needless to say, we, along with many other colleagues in health care, are worried that deeper cuts are going to hurt us next year.”

In response to those fiscal woes, Koshover said the Jewish Home is in the process of analyzing every aspect of its operations to develop spending reduction approaches and revenue enhancement plans to preserve the agency’s future.

One strategy involves looking at the residents’ utilization of the programs and services. If activities do not garner adequate participation, the Home will consider reductions in those programs in an effort to better meet the ever-changing needs of its residents.

“There really aren’t any easy answers to these very difficult, complex issues,” Koshover said. “But having worked at the Jewish Home for nearly 35 years and having been a part of other times when we faced significant challenges, I remain confident that we will continue to build on the strength and expertise associated with the Home to secure its future and viability.”