CSUS furloughs may propel some toward food stamps

TURLOCK — As staff members at California State University, Stanislaus, prepare to take two furlough days a month, many supporting their families are coming dangerously close to qualifying for public aid.

Others have salaries low enough to qualify for food stamps despite working full time on campus.

"That's criminal," said Frank Borrelli, president of the local CSU Employees Union chapter, which represents about 400 employees. "People see state workers (as having) huge pensions and huge salaries. That's not the group we represent."

The furlough days translate to a 10 percent wage cut for the nonacademic workers, such as lab assistants, custodians and nurses, who took the nonpaid time off to minimize layoffs and help close a $584 million systemwide budget gap.

The CSU board of trustees approved the furloughs Tuesday; they include management and nonunion employees. The furloughs begin Aug. 1 at all 23 CSU campuses.

"There has never been such a steep drop in state support in such a short amount of time," CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed said in a news release. "We are in the midst of a financial meltdown and need to take immediate action in order to preserve our institutions."

The CSU trustees also voted to raise student fees by 20 percent and reduce enrollment by nearly 10 percent over two years to close the budget gap. The 20 percent fee hike comes on top of a 10 percent increase approved in May.

The 400 workers at CSUS could make as much as $90,000 or as little as $20,000 a year before the furloughs. About one-third will make less than $30,000 after the furloughs.

On average, a CSUS custodian's salary will fall from just less than $30,000 per year to $26,991.

If that custodian is supporting three people in his family, he would qualify for the state food stamp program. So would the average administrative assistant, one of the largest job designations among classified staff, in a family of four.

Borrelli said some employees have told him they won't be able to afford utilities. Others will need a second or third job.

Kathy Harwell, assistant director of the Stanislaus County Community Services Agency, said most of the people using food stamps are employed. Some have had their hours or wages reduced in recent months.

"It's become a service for the underemployed, not unemployed," Harwell said.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.