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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 24, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Pope says sex abuse ‘terrifying’ sin within Church
Revised guidelines set for catechist formation
Children at great risk under Governor’s budget proposal, say aid agencies

Catholic non-profit service directors in the East Bay fear that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal to significantly reduce or eliminate programs that assist the poor will have devastating effects throughout the state.

An entire program, CalWORKS, a wel-fare-to-work program which serves 1.4 million people, the majority of them children, would be eliminated in the governor’s plan to balance a budget $19.1 billion in the red.

CalWORKS provides monthly grants, job training and child care to enable adults to move towards self-sufficiency.

Needy children would suffer the most, along with the elderly, the sick, disabled and mentally ill if the governor’s proposal is adopted, service providers lamented.

Solomon Belette
“What is being proposed would basically eliminate and shred the public safety net as we know it,” said Solomon Belette, the chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

“I think we have to do the right things that do not inflict more harm and more distress, especially on those who are least able to fend for themselves,” he said.

Schwarzenegger submitted his proposal to the California Legislature May 14 in the course of revising the budget blueprint he offered in January, saying, “California should still be in a position to safeguard its most vulnerable citizens and take care of them, no matter what, but we are not, because our budget system is broken.”

Schwarzenegger’s January budget proposal suggested $8.9 billion in severe cuts be made, and the May revision totals $12.4 billion, as he seeks to balance a budget in the recession-battered state.

The governor proposed eliminating the CalWORKS program in last year’s budget, but it was restored in the negotiating process. Democrats reiterated their intention of maintaining the program that is again threatened.

“God forbid this budget became a reality,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “California would be the only state in the union to not have a safety net for kids,” he said.

Michael Radding, director of programs at Catholic Charities, said that he anticipates “the ones who would suffer the most would be children,” should CalWORKS be eliminated. Cutting it, he said, would damage child care services, now offered to help parents transition into the workforce.

He also said he expects greater demand for the non-profit’s rental assistance program, which aids already marginalized people who could well become homeless if the budget cuts go through.

“We have a fixed amount of money to give away,” said Radding. “What it (elimination) would mean is that a lot more people would not get help who otherwise would.”

Moreover, he said, the governor’s proposal also threatens a cash assistance program for certain immigrants who are aged, blind or disabled. “They are among the seniors we help,” said Radding.

At the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County, Philip Arca, the executive director, said donations are currently 10 to 15 percent off in the down economy, while demand is up 200 percent in certain parts of the county. The proposal in Sacramento would only exacerbate the problem, he said.

“I hate to see individuals get caught up in the political crossfire,” said Arca. “It is frustrating when government wants to scale back but then doesn’t really support the non-profit sector in a way that is sustainable.”

At Catholic Charities, Belette said federal stimulus money, donations and other sources of revenue have kept the organization stable. He said there has been an infusion of new money that was not anticipated a year ago and that has “helped us maintain the level of services we provide.”

Still, he added, “We are coming out of a recession and there is donor fatigue. You add this (state budget cuts) to that and I don’t know how much people can stretch to give.”

“That is why we are worried. I hope that this does not come to pass and that there are further negotiations with the governor so that in the final analysis something much more humane would be implemented as opposed to what is being proposed.”

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