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Schwarzenegger and the budget crisis: easy to be hard

When the governor goes after 'waste,' he only seems to target those least able to put up a fight.

August 01, 2009

Funny, isn't it, that when the governor scours the state budget for waste, fraud and abuse, he only seems to find it in programs for the old, the young, the poor and others unable to raise campaign funds or muster political opposition.

Like those seniors and disabled people in the state's In-Home Supportive Services program. IHSS allows them to stay out of nursing homes or other facilities far more expensive for them, their families and ultimately the state and its taxpayers. Clients don't get direct state payments, just basic care such as meals and changes of clothes and linens. But beware; there could be hundreds of seniors scurrying from county to county under assumed names, trying to rack up as many sponge baths as possible. So California will now crack down by fingerprinting them.

Or those CalWorks recipients, who probably just signed up for welfare to get job training. Well, there are no jobs out there right now, so they must be abusing the system. We showed them -- by cutting funding for job training. And then there are the people raking in all that subsidized Medi-Cal and Healthy Families care. They just want to get the state to pay for cheap preventive care so it doesn't have to pay for expensive emergency care. Nice try. We'll cull recipients by centralizing the eligibility process, because everyone knows it's better to run government from Sacramento rather than closer to home.

California had to cut. But there's a double irony at work. First, the point of the social safety net is to be there when it's most needed -- to ensure that during times of widespread unemployment and financial distress, the people on the edge can avoid falling into an abyss; that's vital to them, of course, but good for the rest of us too, because it costs more to retrieve the fallen than to keep them out of the abyss in the first place. And second, after they are cut, human service programs get branded as wasteful and fraudulent and get cut again, because they don't have a California Teachers Assn. or a California Chamber of Commerce standing up for them.

Certainly there are instances of waste and fraud in government. Fingerprinting IHSS providers, who are paid with taxpayer funds, makes some sense. But fingerprinting the home-bound clients? If that's not an example of new wasteful government spending, it's hard to know what is.

Meanwhile, instead of cracking down on tax fraud, California is furloughing its tax workers, who will have less time and fewer resources to collect taxes owed. It's retaining redundant Cabinet offices, which oversee fully staffed state agencies. And in the name of erasing waste, fraud and abuse, it's leading a devastating march through the path of least political resistance.

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