Social service agencies hurt by massive state budget cuts

The moment Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the new California budget, billions of dollars across the state evaporated from social programs designed to protect society’s most vulnerable — the elderly, the homeless, the disabled.

“The whole safety net is thinner,” said Avi Rose, director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay.

Avi Rose

Much of the $16.1 billion California budget reductions were drawn from social programs, such as in-home health care for the elderly or disabled, mental health services, employment services, community clinics and child welfare and foster care programs.

Jewish social service agencies across the Bay are just beginning to feel the aftershocks of the governor’s approval, signed into law July 28.

The $16.1 billion cuts — combined with $14.9 billion cuts enacted in February, local government funds, tax revenues and federal stimulus dollars — will help close a $60 billion gap in a $198 billion budget.

The S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services has lost $1 million — about one-fourth of its state funding and 5 percent of its total budget.

The state budget cuts eliminated funding for four of its programs: in-home support to severely disabled individuals in Marin, an early intervention program to identify cognitive disabilities in children in Santa Clara County, legal services for poor and disabled individuals, and support services to help low-income families apply for the federal earned income tax credit.

Funding was reduced for three other programs: home-delivered kosher meals, services for refugee children and medical care for fragile elderly.

In total, affected programs serve 2,950 people.

The agency — which has been in a hiring freeze since last year — has laid off 10 employees.

Existing staffers have been making individuals plans for anyone served by the eliminated programs’ social workers or case managers. Clients will either be absorbed by other case managers, therapists or social workers, or referred to outside services.

Gayle Zahler

“It’s triage,” said Gail Zahler, associate executive director of the S.F.-based JFCS. “Obviously this is a very challenging time. Our commitment is to do everything in our power to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks. We won’t be able to provide the same level of service [as before the budget cuts], but we’re not abandoning people.”

JFCS of the East Bay, in contrast, does not receive state funding. Still, the agency has “significantly” felt the ramifications of the state’s budget cuts indirectly, Rose said. An increasing number of clients have seen a reduction or elimination of their medical benefits and in-home support health care.

Many can no longer pay their rent and are worried about being evicted. Many others have lost their housing, while the shelter JFCS often refers its clients to has  fewer beds available due to state budget cuts.

“It’s added to the general climate of financial stress for the people we serve, so that it pervades everything and amplifies the level of people’s needs — it’s like somebody’s turned up the volume,” Rose said.

Hatikvah, a residential home for developmentally disabled Jewish adults that houses six people at any given time, has been hit hard by the budget cuts and the economic downturn.

“We’re in a sweat right now,” said Jerry Schwartzman, a board member of the organization.

Schwartzman said Hatikvah has lost nearly 10 percent of its budget. The state-funded Regional Center for the Mentally Challenged and Disabled will give the agency about $6,000 less in the coming year. And because of the federal Cash for Clunkers program, Hatikvah is not receiving the used car donations it once did, money that helped Hatikvah pay for the 24-hour care of its residents.

In addition, the cost of kosher food and utilities have increased. Board members recently sent out a letter to donors asking for money.

“We can’t cut our services at all, because we’ve never had a lot of luxuries to cut from. We’re bare bones budget to begin with,” Schwartzman said. “We’ve got to raise the funds, we don’t have a choice. This has put us in a financial squeeze, but some way or another we will deal with it. It’s a real conundrum.”

The Jewish Community Free Clinic in Rohnert Park receives state funding for vaccinations as part of California’s Healthy Families initiative, which provides health care to nearly a million children whose families cannot afford private health insurance but who are not poor enough to qualify for Medi-Cal.

The Healthy Families budget was reduced by $178 million; the Jewish Community Free Clinic has not yet heard whether this will impact its vaccination program.

Still, the clinic’s staff and volunteers are feeling the impact of the state budget crisis caused by the deep recession.

Last year at this time, the clinic saw about 100 people per month. Now it’s closer to 300, said Sylvia Frain, the clinic’s outreach coordinator. The spike has persisted for the past four months.

The clinic has since added additional evening hours on Mondays. A number of people wait in line for up to two hours before the doors open each day the clinic is open.

“We’re seeing a new demographic of people who’ve always had a job who are suddenly without work and insurance, and have chronic diseases that need constant care and prescriptions,” Frain said. “This is something the clinic hasn’t seen before.”

Naomi Tucker

Similarly, Shalom Bayit is feeling the residual effects of the budget cuts. The nonprofit provides counseling, advocacy and education to battered Jewish women.

While it does not receive state funding, many of the domestic violence shelters to which it refers Jewish women are at risk of reducing services or closing entirely.

Gov. Schwarzenegger eliminated the $16.3 million initiative that funds domestic violence shelters statewide. In total, 94 organizations receive funding, and for some, the state money makes up more than half of their budget.

“When one shelter suffers, they all suffer,” said Naomi Tucker, executive director of Shalom Bayit.

For instance, Shalom Bayit may refer a woman to a shelter. When she arrives, she might need help filing forms for a restraining order, but she often can’t afford a lawyer for such a service. So the shelter will contact a legal aide group to provide such counseling.

But without the state funds, shelters will not be able to afford to pay for such a service, and an abused woman will be unable to get the help she needs.

“We are talking about life and death matters,” Tucker said. “We can’t put these women on a waiting list. They need immediate protection so they’re not on the streets and stalked by their abuser.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.