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County Official Sees Decrease in Services


Gov. George Deukmejian's proposed budget for the coming year will put Ventura County in a difficult financial squeeze and could mean decreased services for the poor, disabled and jobless, County Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg said this week.

Ventura County's programs, including those for the medically indigent, in-home services for the disabled, Medi-Cal recipients and family planning clinics, would suffer an estimated $5-million cut at a time when they need a 10% increase, Wittenberg said.

"Counties cannot keep pace with growth of caseloads, and the state budgets cannot continue to be balanced on the wholesale shifting of responsibility to counties," Wittenberg said. "And that's what the governor has consistently tried to do."

Wittenberg and other county officials hold out hope that the funds allocated to counties will be significantly increased as the state Legislature reworks the budget beginning with hearings late next month.

Sen. Gary Hart (D-Santa Barbara), who represents the western county, sits on the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, which could allow Ventura County some leverage. But Joseph Caves, Hart's legislative assistant, gave little encouragement.

"We're under real constraints this year, so it's not clear how much flexibility we'll have," Caves said.

Estimates show that caseloads, or the number of people needing services, such as Medi-Cal and social services recipients, will total an 11% increase over last year statewide, Wittenberg said. That compares to the 8% estimated increase in revenues.

"The legislators will try to come back and provide greater assistance to the counties, and decrease some of the health and social service cuts that the governor has made," Caves said. "But to what extent it's possible, we can't say yet."

Wittenberg, in a report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, outlined the good and bad news for the county. He could not estimate the amount of state funds that would come into county accounts, but he counted among the good news a $17.4-million increase statewide in funds for immunization to prevent the spread of disease, a $25-million increase for mental health and a $4.6-million increase for a substance abuse program for pregnant women.

The bad news, said Wittenberg, is more substantial. It included a statewide $150-million decrease in general funding not allocated for specific programs.

Also disturbing, Wittenberg said, is a $74-million reduction in the funds allocated to Medi-Cal for additional benefits that include transportation, counseling and heroin detoxification.

The county executive also cited a $20-million reduction in funds available for county reimbursement for expenses incurred by Medi-Cal patients and a $24-million decrease in family planning services, which provide counseling, but not abortions, for mostly young, unmarried and poor people.

Wittenberg said other cuts include a $91.6-million reduction in the GAIN program, which provides vocational education to welfare recipients.

Wittenberg complained that the state does not pay for the programs that it mandates.

"When we implemented the GAIN program, the state said it would fund it completely," Wittenberg said.

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