Governor's budget plan hits county's vulnerable

Gov. Schwarzenegger's most recent budget proposal would wipe out state funding for domestic violence shelters, including Stanislaus County's only safe house for battered women.

Haven Women's Center faces a nearly 12 percent budget cut if the Legislature approves the governor's spending blueprint for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

"I'm not surprised, we really all expected it," said Haven Executive Director Belinda Rolicheck.

The governor's proposal includes eliminating the state's welfare-to-work program called CalWORKS, which helps 11,510 low-income families in Stanislaus County. Those families have 22,107 children.

"I do understand why the governor did it," said Christine Applegate, director of the county's Community Services Agency, which administers CalWORKS. "There are not a lot of other places to cut."

Schwarzenegger and the Legislature need to close a $19.1 billion deficit for the 2010-11 budget year, which starts July 1.

If the governor's proposal passes, Applegate said, California would be the only state that does not offer a safety-net program for low-income families. "They would pretty much be out on the streets," she said.

Applegate said CalWORKS provides $680 a month in cash assistance on average to a family of four. She said the program is only for families with children.

One consequence of the governor's proposal is that it would shift the responsibility of helping these families to the county and nonprofits, which are under financial stress because of the recession.

CalWORKS' job counseling and training programs also would be eliminated at a time when the unemployment rate in Stanislaus County is more than 19 percent.

Haven operates a 24-bed domestic violence shelter for women and their children. It also provides counseling, case management and other services.

The governor's proposal would wipe out $154,000 in shelter funding to Haven's annual budget of $1.2 million, Rolicheck said.

Haven will cut jobs, not beds

Schwarzenegger eliminated domestic violence shelter funding last year, but the Legislature restored it on an emergency basis.

"We don't have any intention of reducing shelter beds or anything like that" if the governor's proposal is adopted, she said. "We will go into the next budget year assuming we won't have that money and that probably means layoffs."

The governor's revised budget proposal includes eliminating nearly all funding for county mental health programs.

"There already has been cuts before, and now the state is cutting half of our discretionary funding," said Linda Downs, assistant director of the county's Behavior Health and Recovery Services. "It's going to be very difficult to get mental health services. But we don't know yet to what extent."

Downs said the governor wants to take 60 percent of what is called "realignment funding" for mental health and give it to social services. That would be a $7.9 million reduction in Behavioral Health's $13.1 million in realignment funding for 2010-11 budget.

Downs said Behavioral Health will no longer be able to subsidize mental health counseling and therapy serv- ices for its 5,467 Medi-Cal patients if the Legislature approves the governor's proposal.

Schwarzenegger's budget proposal also means more pain for local nonprofits that help families.

Sierra Vista Child and Family Services, which helps abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed children and families in crisis, would see state funding cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent for all of its programs, said Larry Hos- tetler, the nonprofit's director of marketing and fund development.

"It's very close to across the board cuts in funding for most of our 28 programs," he said.

Officials at Modesto-based Children's Crisis Center, which operates five homes throughout the county and helps more than 4,000 abused and neglected children and their parents each year, have their fingers crossed.

About $1 million of its $2.4 million budget comes from the state, and CCC officials still are trying to get answers from the state on what the governor's budget proposal means to their agency.

"It does look like there will be some major cuts to child development services," CCC Executive Director Colleen Garcia said. "About half our budget comes from that. If that's the case, that's a huge concern to us."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at or 578-2316.