Stanislaus County child, senior services face cuts

Resources for vulnerable children and seniors will be on the chopping block today as Stanislaus County leaders continue their tussle with a disastrous deficit.

The proposal would reduce help for youths and seniors at risk of abuse or neglect because some of the programs are not required by law. County officials must cut somewhere to lower costs in all departments by 9 percent, but they can't eliminate mandated programs even if those services don't seem as important.

"I'm really worried about what will happen," said Christine Applegate, director of the county's Community Services Agency. "There is a lot of stress out there. A lot of families could be at risk."

In addition, the county plans to give up $12.5 million in state and federal money for child welfare, in-home care and food stamps because it can't afford to put up $3.4 million as its share to secure that funding.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors today, the county no longer would pull together mental health and substance abuse experts to help families develop "safety plans" for vulnerable children, who likely would end up in foster care. Last year, such meetings kept 206 children with their parents.

About 93 percent of clients leaving foster care end up in suitable housing, thanks to after-care services that could be reduced by half, a report says.

The county would continue a model program of referring complaints that haven't reached crisis level to helpful nonprofit organizations for children younger than 6 because money for that age group is intact. But referrals for children ages 6 to 18, paid by the county, would cease.

Immediate responses to reports of elder abuse could slip to 24 hours, Applegate said, and some seniors could be placed in costly nursing homes because it will take longer for her workers to find in-home care.

The changes would force out 16 of the Community Services Agency's 821 workers. Unlike 92 workers laid off from other county departments in recent weeks, however, all 16 are likely to switch to another division -- if the Community Serv-ices Agency succeeds in adding 27 jobs funded by state and federal money.

Despite unprecedented belt-tightening, Applegate expects county supervisors to approve the 27 positions in her StanWORKS jobs development division because all would be funded by state and federal money. That would allow her to place the 16 and hire 12 more workers, because at least one of the 16 facing layoffs has said he will retire.

All would perform new duties and some might face lower pay, "but we would have an opening if they want it," Applegate said.

The county's 27 departments were ordered to cut their budgets by 9 percent to close a $20 million gap. Because StanWORKS requires certain levels of service, the Community Services Agency will cut 18.5 percent from the rest of the department, mostly affecting children and seniors.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's May revised budget proposal would decimate many social services, but leaders on many levels consider his numbers unrealistic and predict the Legislature won't go along.

Also today, supervisors will consider closing the In-Home Supportive Service Public Authority's office and consolidating its functions within the Community Services Agency. That could save about $23,300, a report says.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star