California Budget Woes Worry Some On Welfare

Gina Jackson of Fremont, Calif. with her two younger children, Sammy, 6, and Jasmine, 11. i i

Gina Jackson of Fremont, Calif., is unemployed and gets multiple checks from the government to support her four children, including Sammy, 6, and Jasmine, 11. She says she's barely making it and is up at night thinking about proposed cuts to the welfare programs. Kelley Weiss for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Kelley Weiss for NPR
Gina Jackson of Fremont, Calif. with her two younger children, Sammy, 6, and Jasmine, 11.

Gina Jackson of Fremont, Calif., is unemployed and gets multiple checks from the government to support her four children, including Sammy, 6, and Jasmine, 11. She says she's barely making it and is up at night thinking about proposed cuts to the welfare programs.

Kelley Weiss for NPR

California lawmakers say they are near a solution to close the state's $26 billion budget gap. That solution is likely to include unprecedented cuts to health and welfare programs. For California families who rely on multiple state services, those cuts could be a double or triple whammy.

Gina Jackson, a single mom of four who helps take care of her disabled mother, is one of those who could be affected by multiple cuts. Three of her kids — Sammy, 6; Jasmine, 11; and Shaughn, 23 — live at home in Fremont, Calif., in the San Jose area. Her other daughter, Erika, 23, lives nearby.

Last September, Jackson lost her job as an administrative assistant at a wealth management firm. Now she relies on a small unemployment check and assistance from several other state programs.

'It's Really Humiliating'

Jackson gets aid through CalWORKs, the welfare-to-work program that provides Jackson with child care so she can spend time looking for a new job. She qualifies for $380 a month in food stamps. Her mother, who is wheelchair-bound, gets a disability check and in-home care.

What's more, Jackson qualifies for California's Medicaid program, and her two older children get significant help paying for college through the Cal Grant program.

Despite all of this help, Jackson says she's barely making it.

"You beg, you borrow, you ask friends, you go to food banks," she says. "It's really humiliating."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget will hit every program Jackson's family depends on.

"I have been up nights thinking about that," Jackson says. "It has interfered with my sleep. And it's a, basically, an overwhelming chess game that you're playing in your mind to set up the strategy to make it, if one part of the puzzle doesn't come through."

It's hard to come up with a total number of people at risk for cuts, according to the California Health and Human Services Agency. More than a million people get these services, and many, like Jackson, are enrolled in multiple programs. The agency says the budget cuts could affect hundreds of thousands of them.

No Good Options

Lisa Page, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, says the governor has no good options. In the past year, Page says, the state's tax revenues plummeted by 30 percent. Page says the governor had to make choices that were unthinkable just months ago.

"The governor understands the real human consequences of those cuts and does not want to have to make them, but when you're faced with the worst economic recession really since the Great Depression, we really had to cut back spending," Page says.

Initially, the governor proposed eliminating some programs. But the Democrats who control the Legislature were adamant in their rejection of his proposals. Page says now the governor is willing to compromise. The question is how much. Recently, in addition to cuts, Schwarzenegger has been emphasizing another word: reform.

"And I'm a strong believer that we have to have some kind of a safety net, but I want people to use — and not to abuse — our safety net," Schwarzenegger said. "That is why I have introduced both short- and long-term reforms."

Schwarzenegger wants to change who can qualify for services — and how long they can keep them. He believes this could save the state more than $1.5 billion.

'Who Are They Thinking Of?'

While the jockeying continues, Jackson feels like she's sitting on the edge of a precipice. And she wonders what's going through the minds of the lawmakers and the governor as they work for a solution.

"Who are they thinking of?" Jackson asks. "I hope my face pops out, and my children, their needs, you know — think of Gina, think of Sammy, think of Jasmine, think of Shaughn and Erika — what are they going to do?"

Jackson may learn the answer to that soon.

Kelley Weiss reports for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif.

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