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Orange County

County Cuts $39 Million From Social Services

Government: The Board of Supervisors approves the reduction in a budget that's 4% bigger than last year's. Most agencies will have to tighten belts.

June 26, 2002|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Expecting severe cuts in state funding, Orange County supervisors Tuesday sliced $39 million from welfare-to-work programs, adoptions, day care, job retraining and transportation for thousands of low-income residents, with some cuts taking effect as early as Monday.

The action came as supervisors approved a $4.9-billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, a budget 4% bigger than last year's. However, it includes more than $57 million in cuts across most county departments.

Top county officials already had imposed a hiring freeze on most departments in anticipation of reductions due to the state's projected $24-billion deficit.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer asked the county's top welfare official whether he had taken steps to inform welfare recipients of the cuts to avoid confusion. Social Services Agency Director Larry Leaman responded that it is too soon to tell the tens of thousands of clients his office serves because the state has yet to finalize its budget, and some programs could get relief.

"It's evident that all our clients will be at risk because of the cuts in services," Leaman said.

Welfare officials could not estimate Tuesday how many people will be affected. However, one official said that in the CalWORKS program aimed at helping people get off welfare, more than 5,000 clients could be affected.

Social Services also is the portal for the county's Medi-Cal population, which numbers 211,600 recipients, an agency spokesman said.

Additionally, Social Services officials will have to centralize its workforce and no longer will provide intake workers at local hospitals, community medical clinics and family resource centers. So although the county is not cutting benefits directly, it will be limiting access as cuts result in case workers being pulled from the field and from outreach programs, agency officials said.

Some programs, such as the agency's car loan program, will end Monday. Others, such as an after-school program for at-risk students, will continue with reduced funding until they end in June 2003.

More than 2,600 schoolchildren throughout the county participate in a CalWORKS after-school program that helps at-risk children with tutoring, language skills, crime and gang prevention, said Ellin Chariton, school and community services director for the Orange County Department of Education.

But $1.4 million will be cut from the $4-million school program this year, and it too will end in June 2003, Chariton said. It is too early to tell how many children will be affected.

"I haven't told the school districts about the cuts yet," Chariton said.

The programs, for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, are intended to help academic performance and to persuade students to stay in school. Chariton said school administrators will have to seek other sources of funding, possibly from the private sector.

Officials with the Community Development Council in Garden Grove were disheartened to learn their agency's CalWORKS program was being cut. The council receives $151,000 to provide outreach services for low-income and unemployed people in need of food stamps and other services.

The agency handles from 50 to 75 food stamp applications a month and helped 11 poor families receive $10,000 in tax refunds last year.

"The deal is these people would never have accessed these programs had we not done the outreach," said Jerry Sanders, who supervises the council's program. "That's 1,033 lives we've helped, and 90% of those have never accessed the food stamp program before."

Leaman said his agency may face a logjam as more people apply at the main office because of the loss of outreach service areas.

"This could cause a tremendous backlog," said Leaman, who in addition to cutting $10 million in CalWORKS programs also had to cut $29 million from other services.

It could cause a major shift in the agency's character, he said.

"Rather than being here to help people get the services they deserve, we're not there to help but to process paper. It's a giant step backward."

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