Facing an historic economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, California Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a revised state budget Thursday that reflected deep cuts from the original draft released in January.
Included among these cuts is a $90.5 million decrease in funding for foster care, child protection services, maltreatment prevention and other child welfare programs.
Newsom’s first words when presenting this drastically different budget said it all: “It goes without saying these are not ordinary times, and this is no ordinary budget.”
The cuts represent a small fraction of the $6.4 billion in total funding allocated to children’s services in the original draft of this year’s budget, but it would eliminate some newer programs intended to improve life for the state’s vulnerable kids.
One program cut completely in Thursday’s budget draft, called the “May Revision,” is the Family Urgent Response System, which was designed to increase the stability of foster home placements by creating a 24/7 hotline to provide on-demand support for youth and caregivers. Disbanding this newly created program will save the state $30 million in general fund dollars.
In an emailed statement, Ted Lempert, president of the nonprofit Children Now, called the elimination of the crisis hotline for foster youth experiencing trauma “particularly inexplicable given the need for such emergency supports at this time.”
Home visiting programs designed to provide guidance, support and access to resources for new parents would also be significantly impacted by the cuts proposed by the governor Thursday. Home visiting services – which are widespread in Los Angeles County and provided by numerous agencies throughout the state – center on an evidence-based strategy to prevent abuse and neglect during the high-risk years of early childhood.
While the governor is proposing that funding for the statewide CalWORKs’ voluntary home visiting program be reduced, he suggests the elimination of a well-regarded program run by Los Angeles County – its Public Health Nurse Early Intervention Program. Under the program, home services are provided after calls to the child protection hotline are made on behalf of children 2 years old or younger.
Newsom’s revised budget proposal also would affect frontline workers in the child welfare field, proposing a rolling back of pay increases that had been anticipated by social workers at foster family agencies.
“The state is not in a fiscal position to increase rates or expand programs given the drastic budget impacts of the COVID-19 Recession,” the budget summary states.
Also at play are “trigger cuts” that will occur if the federal government does not provide “sufficient funding to restore” state spending on other social programs.
One such “trigger cut” would slash the rates paid to short-term residential treatment program providers by 5%. As of July 2019, the rate for residential providers was $13,532 monthly per youth.
Chris Stoner-Mertz, CEO of The California Alliance of Child and Family Services, which represents foster care and residential care providers, said operating costs have already increased by 20 percent during the coronavirus pandemic, and additional cuts would be “devastating” and force providers to make “tough decisions regarding whether or not to continue to provide services to foster and probation youth.”
Another would temporarily suspend “level of care” rate increases, which provide extra funding for foster parents taking in young people who require more supervision and support.
Without a federal relief package for state and local governments, “deep cuts to core services like schools, universities and safety-net programs will be unavoidable,” Newsom wrote in the introduction to his proposed budget.
The federal funds would have to be provided before July 1 to prevent the trigger cuts, Department of Finance Director Keely Bosler said during a news conference. The Legislature has until June 15 to send a balanced spending plan to the governor’s desk, which Newsom must then sign by July 1.
This devastating budget draft stands in stark contrast to the rosy financial situation California had enjoyed after years of consistent economic growth and building up a sizable “rainy day” reserve fund created through years of budget surpluses.
“In January, California was the rocket fuel powering the American economic resurgence,” Newsom wrote. At that point, the state had a projected $5.6 billion surplus for the 2020-21 fiscal year, and by March, revenue had outstripped that projection by over $1 billion.
But between an estimated $41 billion drop in revenue and new coronavirus-related costs to the government, without the May revision cuts the state would face a budget deficit of $54 billion.
The proposed cuts to children’s services also weren’t received well by advocates.
“The May revise proposal fails to reflect that the majority of the state’s children were in crises before the pandemic, in part because California failed to prioritize children above other interests,” Lempert said. State leaders “must ensure that programs serving kids, including early childhood, K-12, children’s physical and mental health and foster care, are the least impacted by budget cuts, and not repeat the history of the last recession when many of these services were cut the most.”
Sara Tiano can be reached at [email protected].
Jeremy Loudenback contributed to this story.