Speakers at the Oakland rally denounced Wall Street and major corporations for not paying their fair share at a time when programs serving the poor are being cut to shreds. Janny Castillo photo

by Ellen Danchik

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n November 15, a demonstration was held at the State Building in Oakland to protest impending “trigger cuts” in the California legislature that will cut hundreds of millions of dollars from essential services. The rally was organized by the California Partnership, along with Parent Voices, BOSS, St. Mary’s Center, and the Center for Independent Living.
In the period from 2008 through 2011, the State of California slashed social services drastically, cutting a total of $15 billion from In Home Supportive Services, education, childcare, programs for seniors and the disabled, and medical care for low-income people. All these programs have already suffered severe, sometimes ruinous budget reductions.
Schools have closed, Medi-Cal recipients no longer have dental or optical care, the Brown Bag nutrition program has been eliminated, SSI benefits for disabled people have been reduced to below the federal poverty level, and In Home Supportive Services (IHHS) have been cut by $128.3 million.
When the state budget was passed in June 2011, it was with the contingency that automatic “trigger cuts” would go into effect in January 2012 if not enough revenue was generated in the six-month period from June until December 2011.
The exact budgetary figures will be revealed on December 15, but based on preliminary reports from Controller John Chiang, the state budget has a shortfall of $1.5 billion, a far cry from the $4 billion in additional revenue required to avoid the trigger cuts.
After the budget numbers are certified on Dec. 15, 2011, the decision will be made to impose these trigger cuts that would then go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
If the trigger cuts occur, the following are only some of the disastrous reductions that are expected:
1. In Home Supportive Services will be cut by another $100 million.
2. Childcare funding will be cut by $23 million.
3. Medi-Cal Managed Care will be cut by $10 million.
4. The Departmental of Developmental Services will be cut by $100 million.
At the Oakland demonstration on November 15, boona cheema, executive director of BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency) warned that these severe cuts would destroy countless lives.
“I wanted to share that there is no sunshine in the California budget,” cheema said. “There is no sunshine in the homes of people whose services have been cut. There is no sunshine in the homes of folks who have lost their jobs. All across the country, we call that balancing the budget. We don’t call that destroying lives.
“What is happening in our communities is that we are destroying lives. We are hurting children. We are having to look into refrigerators that have no food in them. This absolutely cannot continue.”
Cheema, the moderator of the rally, urged the demonstrators to keep showing up at protests, saying that people’s lives depend on their courage and perseverance.
She said, “Join with me in saying, ‘Taxes, not triggers.’ We are part of bringing the sunshine back with our courage — by showing up. We need to show up in Sacramento on December 15 when these cuts may go through. Half of the struggle is showing up — and letting people hear the stories that we have to tell from our communities.”

Deep cuts to In-Home Support

Lauren Steinberg, Systems Change Advocate at the Center for Independent Living, sounded a warning about the massive damage that will be caused by reductions to disabled adults needing In Home Support Services. The California legislature should not expect low-income people with disabilities to bear the burden of any further cutbacks, she said. Instead, she challenged the legislature to bring in more tax revenue, “particularly from corporations and higher-income brackets.”
According to Steinberg, if the trigger cuts are imposed, a large percentage of the disabled people that depend upon In Home Supportive Services will see a 20 percent reduction in the number of hours of assistance they are allotted for personal assistance each month. “This will make it very difficult for people to live independently,” she said.

Ending up in a nursing home

Michelle Rousey, a disabled woman in a wheelchair, lives in Oakland and receives In Home Support Services (IHHS). She told the rally she is facing a 20 percent reduction in her hours of IHHS assistance because of the trigger cuts.
She said, “With my IHHS services, I have a caregiver that comes into my home to provide care for me, and this means she’ll be in my home 20 percent less often. For me, that means I will possibly end up in a nursing home. I don’t get enough hours now. I want the state to know they should not be cutting IHHS again. We’ve already had serious cuts, and another 20 percent cut is not good.”
Seniors already have suffered the devastating loss of many essential, life-sustaining programs. On Dec. 1, 2011, seniors were threatened with yet another calamitous setback, with 35,000 seniors facing the closure of Adult Day Health Care facilities due to a Medi-Cal cutback.
Disability Rights California filed a federal class-action lawsuit that was settled on Nov. 17, 2011. The suit will delay closure of senior centers in California while a new system is being created. It is yet to be seen how the new system will work, but in the meantime, the planned closure of the centers has been postponed.
This was a hard-fought struggle just to preserve part of the existing services for seniors. It takes unrelenting vigilance to protect the rights of seniors and disabled people, and every small victory requires a constant struggle.
Yet, other Medi-Cal cuts have already occurred. Recipients have lost the right to dental services and optical care and the upcoming trigger cuts will slash another $15 million from state medical coverage.

‘Looming terror’ faces seniors

Karen Smulevitz from United Seniors of Oakland powerfully expressed the fearful insecurity and the sense of  being abandoned that consumes seniors facing what she called the “looming terror” of cuts that will damage or eliminate programs they depend on for their very survival.
Smulevitz said, “We all are suffering already from budget cuts that have been made and the looming terror before us of more cuts. It’s just unimaginable. You’ve heard so many stories about how people are suffering now, trying to get doctor’s appointments, trying to get care. What will happen with even more cuts?”
Smulevitz went straight to the heart of what has gone wrong in a society that balances its budget by reducing poor people, children and seniors to desperate poverty.
She said, “The situation we are in is immoral, when the wealthy are the wealthiest in history and have everything — more than they need. They want to balance the budget on us, on children, on disabled people, on the elderly. People who have nothing left to give and they want to take more from us. It’s just immoral.
“If they did a fair tax, there would be enough revenue to take care of everyone’s needs. What kind of a society are we living in where people can suffer and other people just ignore that and refuse to pay their fair share of taxes? It’s not right. It’s scary. We need to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

‘Even if we have to come out in our wheelchairs!’

LaTanya Wolf, a senior advocate from the Hope and Justice Committee at St. Mary’s Center in Oakland, told the rally how the cuts affected her own family, especially her children and grandchildren.
Wolf said, “I am a senior citizen, a grandmother and great-grandmother. I have a sister that uses In Home Support Services — which will be cut. She has a serious disease and is withering away. Recent cuts have already devastated the social safety nets and resulted in job losses.”
Wolf spoke very poignantly to a rally filled with seniors, many people in wheelchairs, and parents with children. She said, “This affects everybody. We need to keep talking and chanting and keep marching. Even if we have to come out in our wheelchairs, even if we have to come out with our guide dogs, even if we have to bring our children, even if we have to come out limping, we will be heard!”

Clarissa Doutherd and her four-year-old child at the Oakland rally. She described the destructive effects of the cuts on her own family. Janny Castillo photo

“Don’t Make Our Kids Balance The Budget.” Disabled people, mothers with children and seniors rallied in Oakland to protest state budget cutbacks. Janny Castillo photo

Wolf was on target in warning about how the trigger cuts may jeopardize families and children. Low-income families in California who need subsidized childcare will be profoundly affected.
Patty Siegel, executive director of the California Child Care Research and Referral Network, said that the June budget imposed a $300 million reduction to childcare programs. Now, if the projected shortfall is $4 billion, then the trigger cut to childcare is anticipated at $23 million. Siegel said, “We have a childcare system right now in California that is more fragile than I’ve ever known it in the 40 years that I have worked in the childcare arena.”

Women and children first

Siegel said it is a cruel reality that women will end up facing the greater part of these extremely damaging cuts.
“The people who are the most affected are primarily very low-income women — either working parents, childcare providers, In Home Support Service workers,” Siegel said. “It’s sad to me that when the decisions were made about who would be affected in the first level of cuts, it’s women and children first. The number of women and children affected is quite disproportionate.”
Clarissa Doutherd is a mother of a four-year-old child and a member of Parent Voices, a parent-led, grassroots organization that fights to make childcare affordable for all families. She has already experienced the destructive effects of the budget cuts in her own family.
“In June of this year, I lost my childcare due to budget cuts,” she told the rally. “We cannot allow this to happen to other families. I am here today not only to share my story but to speak on behalf of the 200,000 families without childcare who desperately need it. And to speak on behalf of the thousands of children who will lose the opportunity to learn, and their parents who will lose their jobs because there is no one to care for their children.
“Limiting access to childcare for working families is not a way to stabilize our economy or create a better California. By cutting childcare, everyone loses. We are sending the wrong message when our government provides subsidies and tax breaks for corporations, yet cannot educate and care for our most vulnerable.”

Speaking out for the voiceless

A spirit was in the air at the rally — a deeply felt sense that we gathered together to speak out for the voiceless, and for the children too young to attend, for the seniors who are housebound, for those incapacitated by illness who cannot leave their beds, for disabled people who need in-home attendants.
All of these people need more than the meager levels of assistance that is left to them. With all the cuts they’ve already suffered, it is deeply unjust for the government to take any more away.
The poor and the disabled, the sick and the elderly have already taken the brunt of our nation’s economic problems. Why is all of the burden placed on the shoulders of the poorest of the poor?
A society that cares so little about children, seniors and the disabled is a society that is becoming merciless. The constant erosion of the safety net cannot be tolerated. We must listen to these voices and act for justice for everyone.
“Trigger cuts.” We must not let that trigger be pulled on the children, seniors and disabled members of our community.


Sacramento Protest of Benefit Cuts, December 15

On December 15 the governor and legislators will announce additional “trigger cuts” to education, child care, health care, senior and disability programs – all of which have already been severely cut. They need to know we are watching and that we are fighting back!